Indians bury Skiers boys lacrosse in first half to hold on for a 13-5 semifinal win
The dream run continues for Cheyenne Mountain, but it came at the expense of the Aspen High School boys lacrosse team. Fueled by a dominant first half, the visiting Indians escaped Aspen with a 13-5 win in the Class 4A state semifinals on Wednesday, ending the Skiers’ best postseason run since 2015.
“More emotions than one should be able to bear,” a teary-eyed AHS coach David Miller said shortly after the game. “Great season. My hats off to the seniors. They are some of my favorite human beings, ever.”
The game was an unexpected second senior day for the 10 AHS seniors, while the matchup itself was wholly unexpected this late in the playoffs. Aspen, the No. 6 seed, upset No. 3 seed Battle Mountain in the quarterfinals last week, while No. 7 seed Cheyenne Mountain knocked off No. 2 Thompson Valley to setup a rare 6 vs. 7 matchup in the semifinals.
The last time Aspen played in the semifinals was in that 2015 season when it won the state championship. For Cheyenne Mountain, this was its fourth straight state semifinal game but it will be the first time it’s reached the state championship game in that span.
“Somebody asked me earlier what it’s going to take, and I said it’s going to take a win. That’s how it happens,” Cheyenne Mountain coach Mike Paige said of finally getting past the semifinal round. “When you are in the semis, you are playing against great teams. Aspen’s squad was superb, so we just had a day. It was fun and what a beautiful place to play lacrosse.”
It didn’t take long for the Indians to assert themselves against Aspen, scoring exactly a minute into the first quarter to take a 1-0 lead. The contest was relatively back and forth the rest of the quarter, but no more goals were had and Cheyenne Mountain took its one-goal lead into the second.
That’s when things started to spiral out of control for the Skiers. The Indians scored five more goals before halftime to lead 6-0 at the break. Cheyenne Mountain plays a style of zone defense the Skiers rarely see, and it looked to cause them plenty of issues in the first half.
Although, Miller said it was less about the defense and more about self-inflicted miscues.
“We made some unforced errors in the first half that cost us possessions,” Miller said. “We started off the game with a dropped ball and then we got some good looks and then we had some more unforced errors. We told the kids we need possession, we need to be calm, and we need to stay out of the penalty box. We almost did all three.”
Down 9-0 midway through the third quarter, the Skiers finally found a spark when AHS sophomore Robbie Fitzgerald took a turnover and turned it into a quick transition goal to make it 9-1 with 5:35 to play in the period. The Indians answered a few minutes later and led 10-1 going into the fourth quarter.
“Lacrosse is a momentum game. It comes and goes and we knew,” Paige said of AHS making a push. “We made some errors and we got tired and the result was Aspen put some in on us. I didn’t call a timeout. I knew they could handle it and they did.”
Aspen’s run finally came in the fourth quarter. Back-to-back goals by freshman Tyler Ward got the wheels spinning, and Fitzgerald scored his second goal shortly after to make it 10-4. Then came Ward again, his third goal in less than four minutes making it 10-5 Indians with 8:15 to play.
“We tried to impress that upon them. Lacrosse is a game of runs; let’s find our run,” Miller said. “We got our five goals there and unfortunately we got outrun by them. Cheyenne Mountain is a great team and I wish them the best of luck in the championship game.”
The Indians quickly shut the door on the rally from there, scoring three times over the final seven minutes to put the game away. The win is a breath of fresh air for a team that has lost in the state semifinals the past three seasons.
Cheyenne Mountain (14-4) will play No. 1 seed Dawson School in the 4A state championship game on Friday night at Mile High Stadium in Denver. Dawson School smothered No. 4 seed Golden in the other semifinal game Wednesday, winning 14-2.
“My older brother was on the first team that made it to the semifinals, so finally being able in my year as a senior to break through and finally get to Mile High, it’s awesome,” Cheyenne Mountain senior Zach Reddish said. “It can’t be described. We are all so excited and ready to show Dawson what we can do when we play well.”
Aspen finishes the season with a 14-3 overall record, its most wins since going 17-2 in that historic 2015 season.
“I’ve got to say, I really respect and I really have to thank my coaching staff,” Miller said. “Without these guys — they all have their specialties — they have all done an amazing job to pick up the slack where it needed to be picked up. No way I can do this without them.”
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Once the Aspen High School defense woke up — random 4 p.m. kickoffs need some getting used to — the Skiers were able to dictate Saturday’s football game en route to a 22-7 victory over visiting Steamboat Springs on the AHS turf.