EDWARDS — Bring. It. On.
It will be Round 2 in Round 2 of the 4A state lacrosse playoffs after Battle Mountain earned its first playoff victory by grounding Air Academy, 15-4, on Wednesday in the nightcap of a playoff doubleheader in Edwards.
No. 4 Battle Mountain will host none other than No. 5 Aspen, 20-7 winners on Tuesday against Evergreen, on Friday. The Rocky Mountain Showdown may be Colorado and Colorado State in September, but Huskies-Skiers is the Mountain Conference Showdown in the state quarterfinals.
Not that anyone in Battle Mountain black, gold and white needs reminding, but the Huskies topped the Skiers, 7-5, during their regular season meeting last month here.
“Who are we playing,” Huskies coach Jerry Nichols joked after Wednesday’s win. “They’re going to come with a chip on their shoulder. We just have to continue turning up the intensity.”
Before Battle Mountain gets into full boil over the arrival of Aspen, the Huskies had been waiting for this game for exactly 365 days. It was May 7 of last year that Battle Mountain lacrosse lost its playoff debut to Ponderosa.
“It feels pretty great,” the Huskies’ Jack Harty said. “I couldn’t be more stoked. We just played with heart and real intensity on ground balls and everything out there. Everyone worked together. Defense did their part and offense scored goals.”
Meet your middies
Wednesday’s game was happily much different than Battle Mountain’s playoff debut. The Huskies led, 2-1, after one quarter on goals from Wyatt Dilling and Harty. In the second, Battle Mountain outscored the Kadets, 7-1.
The key was Air Academy’s defense and the Huskies’ corresponding adjustment. As teams post more and more game film on the Internet, teams know more about their opponents in playoff meetings like these.
Air Academy saw great offense pouring forth from Battle Mountain attackers like Dilling and Crane McGuckin, Clayton Davis and so on, and focused on them. That required the Huskies’ middies to step up offensively.
“Their defense played really well and locked off our attack men, so our middies took advantage. We scored goals,” Harty said. “It was a good effort by the middies, picking up the ground balls and taking it to the goal.”
Enter Canon Kirchner. The co-captain and midfielder unloaded two goals of his hat trick to start the period, and the Huskies were off to the races.
Harty, also a middle, was also on a roll with five goals, including the marker that made it 5-2. Defender Jon Rulon had the helper on that score. Jack Nichols, another middie, scored the first of his two and then Mac Kelsall, surprisingly enough a middle, had the goal of the game.
The junior ran into the Kadets’ end and got knocked down by an Air Academy defender. There was no whistle, so Kelsall got back up and ripped it by Kadets goalie Mikey Smith.
Midfielder Mike Lange scored to finish the half.
Speaking of goaltending, that was the big difference between Battle Mountain and Air Academy. Zach Trombetta played the position artfully with saves that steadied the Huskies early and bolstered them late.
“Zach had his usual stellar game, real proud of him,” coach Nichols said.
Trombetta had sparkling play from his defense as well. Air Academy’s Jake Thornally and Mitchell Miller had combined for 93 goals during the regular season, a rough average of six goals per game. On Wednesday, they had three, and two of those came in the second half, by which time the matter was settled.
And that was film and practice as well.
“We studied those two guys,” defender Eli Stephens said. “Jon Rulon was on (Thornally) and I was on (Miller) and we really studied their ways and what we had to do to stop them from scoring, and it seemed to work.”
Rulon and Stephens did their assignments, and Quin Davis was big sliding between the two, and the Huskies made it a playoff sweep in Edwards on Wednesday.
And, thus, it’s Aspen in the quarters on Friday. The Huskies coaching staff wants a 5 p.m. start, but that is not official.
“We’re going into the game knowing they’re a good team,” Stephens said. “We’ve just got to take it to them, like Jack said, intensity, and have more heart out there.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.