First-year Steamboat boys lacrosse coach Jay Lattimore runs his team through drills at practice Monday evening. The Sailors travel to Ponderosa on Wednesday with a shot at advancing to their first 4A state title game in program history.

Photo by Ben Ingersoll

First-year Steamboat boys lacrosse coach Jay Lattimore runs his team through drills at practice Monday evening. The Sailors travel to Ponderosa on Wednesday with a shot at advancing to their first 4A state title game in program history.

Steamboat boys lacrosse 1 win away from advancing to state title game

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— There was some pep in the step of Steamboat Springs High School boys lacrosse’s roughly three dozen players, even as blustery winds whipped across Gardner Field for their first practice in preparation for Wednesday.

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Junior Mitch McCannon passes the ball during a drill at the Sailors boys lacrosse practice Monday. Steamboat will play at Sports Authority Stadium in Parker against Ponderosa in the 4A semifinals Wednesday.

The Sailors have been here before, but it’s not a worn-out feeling by any means. Steamboat is back in the 4A Final Four, and the only thing standing in its way between now and Saturday’s state championship game at Mile High Stadium is Ponderosa — the new kid on the block, so to speak.

For the first time in program history, the Mustangs finished atop of the Pikes Peak Conference with a stellar 12-2 record. Ponderosa’s only two losses were to 22-1 Brighton out of Salt Lake City and 5A’s Colorado Academy in the final game of the regular season.

But Ponderosa is experiencing another first Wednesday, making its inaugural appearance in the Final Four. And as the No. 2 seed in this year’s bracket, the Mustangs’ roster is chock full of seniors who have taken the program to new heights.

“So far, this has been a great experience,” third-year Ponderosa coach Pat Tierney said. “I think we’ve done a good job of sort of building a program and keeping them focused. At the end of it, though, you need some talent.”

The talent has arrived for Tierney, with 13 seniors who have chance against Steamboat to write another first in the Mustangs’ history book.

But while Steamboat knows what the Final Four feels like, it hasn’t seen that end result of advancing beyond the semifinal round. First-year Steamboat coach Jay Lattimore may not have been with the team during its 6-4 heartbreaking exit in last year’s semifinal against Air Academy, but from what he hears — and sees — he has inherited a sharp and talented group in its own right, one that’s ready to get to Mile High on Saturday.

“Our experience will absolutely help,” Lattimore said, looking ahead to Ponderosa. “Every kid tells me they’re more focused this year. It means a little more to them.”

Ponderosa opened the season as the Colorado High School Activities Association’s ninth-ranked squad in 2014 but climbed the polls quickly. Following its narrow loss to Brighton, the Mustangs ripped off 11 straight wins before that regular-season-finale loss.

The Mustangs have been ranked as CHSAA’s No. 2 team since April 7, behind only state-favorite Wheat Ridge. They found their way to the Final Four by dominating Summit in Round 1, 14-4, and cruising past Thompson Valley on Friday, 12-6.

The Sailors, likewise, have owned the postseason, pushing aside Conifer to open the playoffs and knocking off No. 3 Valor Christian on Friday, 14-8, to set up Wednesday’s date with Ponderosa.

“We all knew we pretty much dominated most of the facets of that game,” Lattimore said about the win against Valor. “We know we did a lot of great things, so we want to make sure we can focus on the team ahead of us.”

And they’ll have to do it on the road again, this time at Sports Authority Stadium in Parker. Lattimore said he’s receiving support from outside coaches no longer in contention, sharing game tape of the Mustangs to help Steamboat prepare. The first-year coach admitted he feels like the state is rooting for his Sailors to advance.

But the long bus rides from the mountains to the Front Range are just a minor obstacle standing in the way of the Sailors’ ultimate goal of playing in its first state championship.

A level of pride is on the line as a Mountain Conference representative.

“This game is huge because it tells the Denver teams that there is such a thing as mountain lacrosse,” Steamboat senior Trent Trask said. “Lacrosse doesn’t end at the Eisenhower Tunnel.”

Faceoff is at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

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

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