Evergreen gets redemption, beats Aspen boys lacrosse in first-round playoff rematch
Just shy of a year ago, the Aspen High School boys lacrosse team beat Evergreen, 10-5, in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs on the AHS turf. While the Skiers would play twice more before bowing out in the semifinals, the Cougars went into the offseason with that loss to use as kindling 12 months later.
“That (loss) last year stayed with us all season long,” third-year Evergreen coach Jay Egger said. “One of our main goals was that we wanted to get better to be prepared for this, which we did. We set up our schedule to play the best. We took a lot of lumps in the beginning of the season, but we knew those lumps were coming to prepare us for this playoff.”
With something akin to revenge in mind, the No. 9-seeded Cougars used that fire to take down the No. 8-seeded Skiers on Tuesday in a first-round playoff rematch, winning 10-5 on the AHS turf, ironically the same score AHS won by a season ago.
The Cougars overcame an energetic spurt by the Skiers midway through the game to end Aspen’s first season under coach Tommy Cox with a 10-6 overall record.
“We had them. There were, like I said, little mistakes that teams make. I can’t fault any of these boys. They left 110 percent on the field,” Cox said. “I just told them what they are going to remember 10 years from now is not a loss. They are going to remember they got to play with their brothers and their family they’ve known since they were 2 years old. As long as they can understand that I’m beyond proud of them, then hopefully they can keep their head up.”
Aspen trailed 3-1 after a quarter and 5-2 at halftime. Robbie Fitzgerald had both AHS goals in the half, including his second with about five minutes to go that gave the Skiers some needed momentum going into halftime.
Not even 30 seconds into the third quarter, Aspen senior Dominic Lanese scored to make it 5-3. AHS showed a lot more fight after halftime, and Fitzgerald would get his third goal with about four minutes to go in the third to make it 5-4 heading into the fourth quarter.
Evergreen was ready for this and knocked the Skiers back off course over the final 12 minutes.
“We knew it would be a battle, but we felt confident in being able to walk away, especially with trying to get redemption from last year,” Egger said. “We talked about it, they knew exactly what they had to do and they pulled themselves out and responded. We knew we just needed one goal and when we hit that one goal, we just went off.”
Evergreen scored about 70 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it 6-4 and unloaded from there. The Cougars scored twice in the span of eight seconds to make it 8-4 with six minutes to play, and less than a minute later it was suddenly 9-4. Their lead peaked at 10-4 with 2:59 to play before AHS senior Noah Hollander capped off the season with a final goal with about two minutes to play.
Evergreen (9-7) will move onto the second round to face either No. 1 seed and defending state champion Cheyenne Mountain or No. 16 seed Holy Family. They play Wednesday. The Cougars played Cheyenne Mountain earlier this season, losing 12-6, and was feeling positive about a possible rematch.
“With this momentum, the team playing really well and peaking right now, we are confident and we have nothing to lose,” Egger said. “Congratulations to Aspen on their great year. We knew what happened with you guys earlier in the season with your two coaches and we have a lot of respect for this program and how you guys value lacrosse.”
The loss closed out a trying season for the Skiers, who were preseason No. 5 in 4A but had to overcome the losses of coaches Michael Goerne and Owen Green, who died in a February avalanche. Both had planned to be assistants this season. Goerne started the program and was the team’s head coach when it won the 2015 state championship.
“At the end of the day, winning and losing aside, these boys overcame more adversity than any team I’ve ever seen in my career with lacrosse,” Cox said. “This group of seniors in particular, they led the charge. They took everybody in. They made them feel like they were all a part of this team. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to coach my first season. I’m so proud of each and every one of these boys.”
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