Steamboat Springs players walk off Gardner Field as Aspen players celebrate their 16-13 win in the Mountain Conference championship game. With the win, the Skiers forced a three-way tie atop the league, with Steamboat and Battle Mountain.

Photo by Ben Ingersoll

Steamboat Springs players walk off Gardner Field as Aspen players celebrate their 16-13 win in the Mountain Conference championship game. With the win, the Skiers forced a three-way tie atop the league, with Steamboat and Battle Mountain.

Aspen again handles Steamboat boys lacrosse, forces 3-way conference title

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— Shortly after noon at Steamboat Springs High School, the Aspen boys lacrosse team huddled near the scoreboard at Gardner Field for a photo shoot, with a 16-13 final score flickering not far behind, crowning the Skiers as back-to-back Mountain Conference champions.

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Ben Wharton scores one of his three goals in the second half past Aspen's Jordan Cattrell. Steamboat mounted a second-half comeback that fell short, 16-13, on Saturday.

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Steamboat's Willy Gunn flings in a shot in the second half of the Sailors' 16-13 home loss to Aspen on Saturday.

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Ben Wharton, right, celebrates a first-half goal in the Sailors' 16-13 loss to Aspen on Saturday afternoon.

On the west end of the stadium, the Sailors slouched around the home-team bench, hanging their sun-baked faces after losing just their second game in 56 conference contests. Both losses have been against Aspen.

Aspen forced a three-way tie atop the conference with Steamboat and Battle Mountain on Saturday afternoon, using a six-goal fourth quarter to stun the Sailors on senior day.

It was a de facto conference championship marked by chippy play from both sides and pure exhaustion on the Sailors’ bench. Emotions ran high, untimely penalties plagued Steamboat, and won faceoff after won faceoff by Aspen flustered the Sailors to their second loss in their past three games after starting the season 12-0.

“They’re a good team,” Steamboat coach Jay Lattimore said about Aspen. “I still believe we made a couple mental errors that set us back a touch, and we had to continue to try to fight back. The boys don’t realize it now, but we still tied for first and had a great season.”

Steamboat (13-2, 8-1 conference) fell behind quickly, digging itself into an 8-3 hole with 3:52 remaining in the first half due in large part to Aspen’s Ty Tick, who poured in six goals through two quarters.

Then the Sailors did what they do best — and do often. They came back, using a big third quarter to narrow the score to 11-10, including a momentary 10-10 tie with 1:32 left before the fourth began.

But what Tick was able to do in the first half — slashing lanes allowed by the Steamboat defense — the Skiers’ John Heaphy accomplished in the second half, twisting and weaving his way to six goals in the final 24 minutes.

“Our guys were unselfish in our ball movement,” Aspen coach Mike Goerne said. “The majority of our goals were assisted, which means the offense was moving and looking for each other. The opportunities showed.”

Aspen scored the first four goals of the fourth quarter, opening up a 15-10 lead, tying its biggest margin of the game. The Sailors made things interesting in the final five minutes with consecutive scores from Mitch McCannon, Erik Sobeck and McCannon again, but Aspen’s Matt Sovich slid one past Steamboat’s Kaleb VanArsdale to stop the bleeding and end the day at 16-13.

Ben Wharton, Willy Gunn and McCannon led the Sailors in scoring with three goals apiece. Drew Williamson, Tate Dixson, Peter White and Sobeck each had one.

VanArsdale saw more challenges in front of the net than he had all season, giving up a season-worst 16 goals but also racking up 17 saves, 13 of which came in the first half. Steamboat also couldn’t seem to control the tempo on faceoffs, winning just 16 of 32.

“The difference today is we can’t just come back all the time,” Lattimore said. “A couple guys gave it their all to dig us out of that hole, but they played a great game. Give credit to Aspen.”

Lattimore will travel to Denver on Sunday to meet with the seeding committee and other 4A coaches to plead their cases for state playoff slots, he said. A number of factors play in, such as overall record, league record, strength of schedule and goals for and against. Lattimore said he expects to know Steamboat’s playoff draw by Monday.

The first-year coach opted to take a glass-half-full approach to the loss, noting that Steamboat faced similar adversity last year with playoff seeding and still advanced to the state semifinals. Maybe it’s a good thing to fall before a win-or-go-home format takes hold next week, he said.

“You never know what happens with seeding,” Lattimore said. “This could be a blessing for us in disguise, as far as dropping us down a level with our egos. Maybe it will match us up in a better path to get through the playoffs.”

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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