Steamboat boys lacrosse hopes for playoff repeat against Valor Christian | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat boys lacrosse hopes for playoff repeat against Valor Christian

Steamboat boys lacrosse coach Jay Lattimore watches his team work through practice Thursday. The squad hits the road Friday to play at Valor Christian in the Class 4A state quaterfinals.

— For two teams separated by three hours of highway, the Steamboat Springs and Valor Christian high school boys lacrosse teams have built a wicked little rivalry.

There have been overtime games, heartbreakingly close losses and even a jarring collision in the state playoffs, and that's just within the past four years.

The Sailors and the Eagles will add another chapter to that story Friday, and again in the playoffs. Steamboat travels to play at 5 p.m. at Valor Christian. The winner advances to the semifinals of the 16-team tournament.

"Valor's a very fast team. They move the ball and attack the cage as much as possible," Steamboat coach Jay Lattimore said. "We have to stay out of the penalty box, but still be aggressive and keep them from getting comfortable."

The Eagles do have a bit of reason to be comfortable, starting with their home-field advantage. Steamboat's only 4-5 on the road this season, and that's after Wednesday's 5-3 first-round upset against Aspen. Valor, meanwhile, is 8-1 at home and hasn't lost there since the skiing was still good in Steamboat, mid-March.

Valor's the No. 2 seed in the tournament, 12-4 on the year, but undefeated in its league. Steamboat's 9-7.

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The Sailors hope a brutal schedule, the third-hardest in Class 4A, has prepared them for the test, though Valor is plenty grizzled, as well, sporting the No. 1 strength of schedule in the division.

If Steamboat is to pull out the win, it'll take an otherworldly defensive performance. Valor's scored 241 goals this season, second in the state. It's had five games with 20 or more goals and averages 15 goals per game.

The team's leading scorer, senior Grayson Goodyear, is fourth in the state in scoring with 51. That puts him one goal and one spot ahead of Steamboat junior Davis Peterson. Valor's deep, however, with five other players who average at least one goal per game.

Steamboat's managed roughly half the scoring output Valor has this season. So what hope do the Sailors have?

The hope is on defense. Steamboat is fifth in the state in goals allowed, and goalie Peter Wharton is seventh in the state in save percentage, stopping nearly 62 percent of shots that come his way.

"We're keeping most of our games below 10 goals, which is really hard to do in the game of lacrosse," Lattimore said. "Right now, our defense is carrying us, keeping games close."

Steamboat and Valor didn't meet in the regular season this year. When they did a year ago — early in a season in which Valor went on to win the state championship — the Eagles won 18-7.

The teams last met in the playoffs in 2014, when the Sailors pulled out a 14-8 win in the quarterfinals. That was an upset, if not a huge one, with Valor the No. 3 seed and Steamboat the No. 6.

The Sailors would love to repeat that performance Friday.

"The biggest difference between this team and that one in 2014, I had 17 sophomores on the bus to Aspen. Back then, I had 17 seniors," Lattimore said. "We're young, and we've played a tough schedule. Yeah, our record isn't as pretty as we'd like, but we made the playoffs, won a game and now, that record doesn't matter. Hopefully, we can just focus on that, don't think about what else has happened and work on the game plan."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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