Joel Reichenberger: Sailors' loss hurts, so good

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— There’s no hunky dory end to this one.

Two years ago, the Steamboat Springs High School boys lacrosse team lost in the second round of its postseason tournament, but it went home knowing that for the first time in its history, it had won a playoff game.

A year ago, the Sailors advanced to the Final Four, further again than it ever had.

Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

On Wednesday night, Steamboat lost at that same point — in the semifinals — falling 17-13 against Ponderosa, one win away from the championship game the team had its heart set on.

There’s some obvious comfort at the ready this season, of course. Sending Valor Christian, one of Steamboat’s most bitter lacrosse rivals, out last week in decisive fashion and on its home turf, was sweet. It was perhaps the highlight of a season.

But Steamboat is a strong enough program. This senior class is a talented and proud enough group, that no matter how much vengeance it carried, no win in the state quarterfinals could be enough.

And there, if anywhere Wednesday night, is some solace.

The loss was bitter. It got out of hand to some degree late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, Steamboat picking up frustration-induced penalties and players and fans chirping at the refs as Ponderosa extended a half-time lead to a gap that Steamboat would never close.

This game was decided before that, however, in a few unlucky first-half bounces and a few unfortunate first-half mistakes.

Steamboat gave up two goals on stupidly frustrating bounces of the ball. One, the Sailors appeared to have corralled, ready to toss it into an offensive while holding an early one-goal lead. The Mustangs’ Derik Mango, the night’s best player, didn’t let off the pressure. The ball popped free and he was right there to take advantage, knocking it into the net as much as shooting it.

Later, another shot bounced off the back of Steamboat goalie Kaleb VanArsdale’s foot and into to the goal.

Steamboat wasn’t always able to capitalize when it had to, either. It couldn’t score in a second-quarter situation where it was two men up on Ponderosa.

The Sailors mounted an awesome comeback attempt, breathing life into a game that seemed over. Ben Wharton scored late. Willy Gunn scored late. Mitch McCannon scored twice. On McCannon's final goal, he hit the turf winging in a shot with less than a minute remaining.

Still, the game ended with the Mustangs rushing onto the field, the players swarming their goalie and a stream of screaming students and fans swarming their players.

The Sailors were left to make the longest walk in high school sports, the one that goes around the opposing team’s victory mob. They trodded off the field, heads hung low and spirits ravaged.

But they almost refused to leave. Ponderosa was off to the locker room, finished celebrating, before many of the Steamboat players left the field. They hugged friends and family, and one another.

They were freezing. They had to be freezing. A cold rain washed over the stadium in the fourth quarter and Steamboat’s players were dressed more for July lacrosse than March. But they stayed, even as the grounds crew picked up the nets and put away the equipment.

Wednesday’s loss hurt. But sometimes sports hurt.

You have to care for it to hurt. You have to believe for it to hurt. You have to be dedicated for it to hurt.

You have to be good for it to hurt, and even if that’s all this team is left with — believing, dedicated, talented players who care so much they refuse to go warm up even 15 minutes after having their hearts ripped out, that’s some solace.

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