The Aspen Skiers left a tenuous 4-4 halftime tie in the rear-view mirror.
The Evergreen Cougars, stinging from bad driving directions and a playoff loss, left Aspen in the rear-view mirror.
The Aspen High School boys lacrosse team, playing its first playoff game ever, mapped out a rapid-fire, transition offense Wednesday afternoon, scoring eight goals in the second half and beating visiting Evergreen, 12-6, in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
“At halftime, we said that we have to come out and step up in the second half,” sophomore Ryan Fitzgerald said. “We said, ‘This is our season. You lose, and you’re done.’”
The Skiers are not done.
They opened the third quarter Wednesday afternoon with a dynamic transition goal on a play that spanned the entire length of the field.
From deep in his own end, Aspen’s Harry Ferguson advanced the ball to teammate Connor Peirce in the midfield.
Peirce fired a perfect pass to Tyler Tick near the net, who dished the rock to Fitzgerald for a crowd-pleasing goal and a 5-4 Aspen lead — a lead the Skiers would not relinquish.
“After a goal like that, everyone really gets into it,” said Tick, who scored three goals of his own in the first playoff victory in Aspen lacrosse victory.
“In the second half, we weren’t nervous like we were in the first half,” said Tick, the son of Cathy and Jon Tick.
His third-quarter goal, assisted by Fitzgerald, broke open the one-goal game, extending the Skiers lead to 6-4 entering the fourth quarter.
That’s when the Aspen offense shifted into high gear with a rebound goal by Ferguson and a wicked bouncer into the net by Fitzgerald.
“We had the fast break (in the second half), then we settled down and took those second looks,” said Fitzgerald, who finished with a game-high five goals, including two in the final 51 seconds.
Fitzgerald said a big key to the victory was the steady play of the Aspen defense in front of goalie Art Kelso.
“The defense was solid,” said Fitzgerald, the son of Kristen and Steve Fitzgerald. “Nicky Cottrell played great. The middies did really well moving the ball upfield.”
Matthew Sovich added two goals for Aspen.
Colter Robinson also scored for the Skiers.
Evergreen collected two goals from Erik Nestingen, along with goals by Jeremiah Schutzius and Dylan Haga in the first half.
Jacob Koons scored twice in the fourth quarter for the Cougars, who finished the season 6-11.
“In the first half, we came out, and we struck really early,” Aspen head coach Mike Goerne said.
Robinson found the Evergreen net barely a minute into the game — a contest that was delayed 45 minutes because the Evergreen charter bus, following automated GPS directions, attempted to reach Aspen via Independence Pass on Wednesday.
The bus eventually turned back in Leadville, forcing the Cougars to spend an extra hour and a half in transit for Wednesday’s playoff game in Aspen, Evergreen’s first trip to Ute City for a sporting event.
But the Cougars got over the early bus lag with three consecutive goals late in the second quarter to force the 4-4 halftime tie.
“We got a little too comfortable. We started to give the ball back, and we also got caught with a few penalties,” Goerne said.
At the end of the second quarter, the Skiers were whistled for an illegal stick — a 3-minute penalty.
“But we came out after the half, and we killed the penalty,” Goerne said. “We kept the ball moving. We took advantage of the opportunities; we knew they were there.”
He said the crisp passing on the transition goal by Fitzgerald early in the second half sparked the Skiers emotionally.
“You can’t beat those goals,” Goerne said. “Those are the goals that make this game so exciting. Head up, running full speed, finding the next open guy. We were able to get on the doorstep and bury it.”
The Skiers, in all, fired 40 shots at the Evergreen net in the first-round playoff win. The Cougars had 25 shots.
Next, the Aspen boys lacrosse team (13-2) will play No. 5 seed Valor Christian or No. 12 Alexander Dawson (Boulder) in the state quarterfinals Friday in Denver.
Official time and place will be announced today.