In the nearly two hours it took for Steamboat Springs High School boys lacrosse to wrap up its quarterfinal contest at Valor Christian, a swirl of dark, heavy clouds circled Valor Stadium, but not a drop of water hit the artificial turf.
2014 Sailors boys lacrosse schedule
- March 8: Steamboat 21, Glenwood Springs 0
- March 14: Steamboat 10, Green Mountain 4
- March 21: Steamboat 11, Telluride 3
- March 22: Steamboat 10, Durango 3
- March 27: Steamboat 22, Eagle Valley 0
- March 29: Steamboat 15, Battle Mountain 8
- March 31: Steamboat 14, Thompson Valley 11
- April 4: vs. Steamboat 16, Golden 4
- April 5: Steamboat 14, Cheyenne Mountain 13
- April 11: Steamboat 10, Grand Junction 1
- April 12: at Fruita Monument, 11 a.m.
- April 18: Steamboat 15, Windsor 8
- April 19: Valor Christian 11, Steamboat 10
- May 1: Steamboat 13, Summit 2
- May 3: Aspen 16, Steamboat 13
- May 6: Steamboat 14, Conifer 4
- May 9: Steamboat 14, Valor Christian 8
No more than five minutes after the final buzzer sounded, the showers began. The storm spit a blanket of moisture on Steamboat’s black away uniforms, but not even a little precipitation could rain on the Sailors’ on-field party following the team’s 14-8 win to advance to the 4A Final Four for the second-straight season.
Steamboat did it in a way it hasn’t been able to in the back half of the season, playing swarming defense with dominating faceoffs that translated into scores early and often.
“This was huge,” Steamboat senior Ben Wharton said. “Last year (in the quarterfinals) we won in OT, so it was questionable. It could have gone either way. This year, we showed we belong here.”
And Wharton's numbers Friday night proved why he belongs in the conversation as one of 4A's elite players.
Steamboat traded goals early with Valor, taking a 2-2 tie into the second quarter off goals from senior Peter White and Wharton.
Then Wharton exploded to the tune of three-straight scores in the second quarter to open up a 5-2 gap. White squeezed in another goal between a pair of Valor scores with 3:02 remaining before halftime to make it 6-4 at the break.
“We’ve played some close games this year so we knew we could handle them in a close one, but we knew that in the playoffs they could come back and we’re done,” Steamboat coach Jay Lattimore said. “We wanted some insurance.”
Valor would open the second half with a score from Cole Baker, but the Eagles never would get a chance to tie things up or take a lead after narrowing it to a 6-5 deficit.
Wharton and White combined to score the game’s next four goals to open up a 10-5 gap. Valor squeezed a few by Sailors goalie Kaleb VanArsdale late, but Steamboat’s Mitch McCannon (one goal), Tait Dixson (one goal) and Willy Gunn (two goals) closed things out to advance to the semifinals.
But ask the Steamboat players during the after party outside the visitor’s locker room, and they’d point to senior Michael Wong’s stellar performance on faceoffs, and they would mention perhaps the best game the defense has played all season.
“This is the time of year you want to have your best games,” Lattimore said. “That’s what we’ve been preaching in practice the last couple days, doing the little things right.”
With Wong’s presence at midfield, Steamboat owned possession for most of the game, winning 14 of 11 faceoffs, including 12 of the first 15. VanArsdale finished the quarterfinal contest with 14 saves, seven coming in the fourth quarter.
Scoring wise, Wharton poured in one of his biggest stat-sheet-fillers of the season, with seven goals. White had three scores and a game-high four assists. Gunn also had a trio of assists.
“We had some really good practices this week, and we came out really hard,” Wharton said. “Obviously, we had some scores to settle with Valor. We knew we could.”
But Wednesday there is a new score to settle: erasing the memory of last year’s exit from the Final Four. The Sailors will have that shot, but they’ll have to do it again on the road at No. 2-seed Ponderosa for the school’s first trip to the state championship in boys lacrosse.
“I think with this team everyone knows what needs to happen,” Wharton said. “If we bring it like we did today, I don’t think there’s anyone who can beat us, honestly.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll