Wheat Ridge stops Aspen boys in semifinals | AspenTimes.com

Wheat Ridge stops Aspen boys in semifinals

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

LAKEWOOD — Pressure, pressure, pressure.

The Skiers applied the pressure. But the defending state lacrosse champions applied a special pressure all their own.

Wheat Ridge, the No. 1-ranked boys lacrosse team, ended the season for Aspen on Wednesday with a hard-fought 12-7 win over the Skiers in the semifinals of the Class 4A state championships.

The Farmers, who will move up to Class 5A lacrosse next season, used relentless pressure, especially on the forecheck in Aspen’s end, to streak to a 7-2 halftime lead.

The Skiers found some relief from Wheat Ridge’s pressure defense in the second half, putting a scare into the defending state champions. Twice the Skiers cut the Wheat Ridge lead to four goals in the second half, only to see the Farmers match them as each team ended up with five second-half goals.

“They definitely put the most pressure on us of anyone we played,” Aspen junior Ryan Fitzgerald said outside the tearful locker room at Trailblazer Stadium in Lakewood. “They did a good job shutting us down.”

He said the Wheat Ridge early pressure caused problems.

“They got the pressure on us when we were trying to get it out (of the defensive zone) on the clears. They prevented us from getting it out of our zone,” Fitzgerald said.

Wheat Ridge converted early in the first quarter when John Roach scored off an assist from Dima Makarov — a preview of scoring combinations to come.

Regan Devine pushed the lead to 2-0, assisted by Makarov again.

“We didn’t come out the way we wanted to, either,” Fitzgerald said, even though the Skiers cut the lead to 2-1 on a goal by Jonathan Wells, assisted by John Heaphey.

But the Farmers would exploit the Skiers with a 4-1 scoring advantage in the second period to lead, 7-2, at halftime.

Heaphey’s goal to open the second half cut the lead to 7-3 before Wheat Ridge scored three in a row — Makarov, Zach Hall and Roach (remember him?).

The Skiers cut into the lead when Tyler Tick, Aspen’s leading scorer and the leading 4A scorer in Colorado, scored off a pass from Harry Ferguson with 2:47 to play in the third period.

Wells scored again, assisted by Fitzgerald, as the third period ended with Wheat Ridge up, 10-5.

Heaphey would score two unassisted goals in the fourth period, while Tyler Knott and Tyler Morpurgo scored for the Farmers (15-4).

“Wheat Ridge is the former state champions. They were the unanimous No. 1 seed by all the coaches going into the playoffs,” Aspen head coach Mike Goerne said. “We knew coming into this that to beat them we had to play as perfect of a lacrosse game as we could play.”

He said Wheat Ridge took advantage of the Skiers’ hesitancy early in the game.

“There were a few times where we got jammed up and we hesitated on our decisions,” Goerne said. “We hesitated on where we wanted to move the ball, and we turned it over.”

Not something you can do against the No. 1-ranked team in Class 4A, he said.

“That, in the first half, cost us five goals,” Goerne said. “It’s never good to spot a team that many goals, especially a team that is that good.”

But Goerne liked his team’s play in the second half, when the Skiers put the pressure on Wheat Ridge.

“In the second half, we stayed even with them. We relaxed and played,” Goerne said. “However, we could not quite get the edge we needed.”

The Skiers, who beat Evergreen and Battle Mountain earlier in the playoffs, ended their historic season 15-3 — the most wins in program history.

“To walk away 15-3, I couldn’t be more proud of the energy, the commitment,” Goerne said of the Skiers, who will return nearly a full roster with only two seniors on the 2014 club.

“The boys have put together an incredible season,” the Aspen coach said. “We’re one step closer to our goal. We hope to keep building on what we’ve created.”

Likewise Wheat Ridge coach Chris Knott, who will lead the Farmers into the state championship game Saturday afternoon at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver.

“We knew they could score. (Tyler) Tick and those guys, they can score,” Chris Knott said after Wednesday’s win. “Our No. 1 fear (against Aspen) was transition. Five of their seven goals came on transitions. Hats off to them. We knew they were going to do it. We practice against it, and they still did it.”

He said the Farmers followed their own game plan with early offense against the Skiers.

“Our attack rode really hard today. We worked this week on who we wanted to handle the ball,” Chris Knott said.

He said the Farmers, who include players from several different Jefferson County high schools, have blended as a program.

“Our program is based on the kids. They come in here and they play for each other,” he said.

And they’ll play for their second consecutive state championship this weekend.

dstrode@aspentimes.com


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