Steamboat senior Ben Wharton, right, looks back at the scoreboard as he stands with fellow senior Peter White, left, and junior Willy Gunn on Wednesday after the team's 17-13 semifinal playoff loss to Ponderosa High School.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat senior Ben Wharton, right, looks back at the scoreboard as he stands with fellow senior Peter White, left, and junior Willy Gunn on Wednesday after the team's 17-13 semifinal playoff loss to Ponderosa High School.

Steamboat boys lacrosse once again turned away in Final Four

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— It’s the little things that spell victory, the Steamboat Springs High School boys lacrosse team will tell you.

Winning faceoffs, staying out of the penalty box and playing brick-wall defense — things that are so crucial in the game of lacrosse.

But on the grandest stage to date, with a shot at advancing to the 4A lacrosse finals against Wheat Ridge at Mile High Stadium, Ponderosa executed the little things that Steamboat normally does so well.

The No. 2 Mustangs used a huge third quarter to knock off the Sailors, 17-13, on Wednesday night in the semifinals at Sports Authority Stadium in Parker. It’s the second-straight season Steamboat has been turned away with a state championship berth on the line.

Trailing by just one goal, 7-6, with less than two minutes into the third quarter, Ponderosa took charge. The Mustangs ripped off six of the game’s next seven goals, taking a commanding six-score lead into the final quarter, the biggest margin the Sailors have trailed by all season.

“We had some dumb mistakes we can’t make during the playoffs,” senior Connor Glynn said. “If we would have played the way we have been the last three weeks, the outcome would have been different, I think.”

Less than a week after pushing around Valor Christian in just about all phases of the game in the 4A quarterfinals, Steamboat struggled, committing untimely penalties and dropping faceoffs when they mattered most.

The Sailors’ lone lead of the game came with just 11 seconds left in the first quarter, when senior Ben Wharton took a Mitch McCannon assist and converted a score to give his team a 3-2 advantage.

The Mustangs took a 7-5 lead at halftime and used that giant third quarter to force Steamboat into catch-up mode, something the Sailors are accustomed to, but don’t enjoy.

“Goals mean a lot more in games like this than other games,” first-year Steamboat coach Jay Lattimore said. “During the season, we always have tomorrow to fix mistakes, and today we don’t have tomorrow. That’s the frustrating thing.”

Lattimore pleaded with his team as it faced a 13-7 deficit with 12 minutes to go in regulation, begging for the team to rally with its back against the wall, and it did — briefly.

The Sailors cut it to a three-score game with two minutes to go, 14-11, but Ponderosa’s steady possession and stout defenders took control as the seconds drained out of Steamboat’s run at the state championship.

Steamboat was led in scoring for the second-straight game this postseason by Wharton, who poured in five goals. McCannon netted four scores, Willy Gunn had a pair and seniors Trent Trask and Erik Sobeck each had one.

But Steamboat had little answer for Ponderosa’s one-two scoring combination of Derik Mango and John Griffin, who combined to score 10 of their team’s 17 scores.

Steamboat saw a number of tough breaks go against it from start to finish, including a pair of goals that ricocheted off senior goalie Kaleb VanArsdale, as well as missed opportunities on offense playing a man up — sometimes two men up.

“It’s hard to see it go that way with a couple mistakes, but it’s the game of lacrosse,” Lattimore said. “That’s kind of what happens.”

Wednesday’s loss marks the final game for Steamboat’s 12 seniors — and by default, marks the final time they will wear Sailors uniforms. As the majority of Steamboat’s 29-man playoff roster made a quick exit to the locker room after the game when temperatures plunged and rain dampened those left in Sports Authority Stadium, the seniors took their time.

And rightfully so, Lattimore said, especially for a group that has been so close to the state finals, only to be turned back two years running. He has a lot to build off of from the 2014 roster heading into next season, but for a coach heading up a varsity program for the first time, the Steamboat dozen won’t soon be forgotten, he said.

“They never quit tonight,” Lattimore said afterward. “There were seconds left in the game and they were still fighting for the chance. I learned a lot as a first-year head coach just by having those guys on the team.”

Steamboat finished the season 15-3.

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

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