Aspen upsets VMS 12-10 in second round road playoff win
Aspen moves on to quarterfinals on May 17
When you face a team three times in one year, everyone’s DNAs are usually pretty well mapped out. Then again, some players have so much skill, it doesn’t really matter.
Aspen junior midfielder Judd Gurtman was the star Friday night, coming through with big play after big play and scoring four goals to lead Aspen to a 12-10 upset road win over Vail Mountain School in the second round of the 4A state lacrosse playoffs.
“He’s been playing out of his mind all year. We’re so grateful to have him,” Aspen coach Tommy Cox said.
“This means the world to our program. Our boys never stopped fighting. We lost to them last time we played them, so to come out here and be victorious, it’s a depiction of what Aspen lacrosse is really about — never stop fighting.”
From the first faceoff, well-rested Vail Mountain, which received a first-round bye, tested Aspen’s tired legs. Charlie Vidal and Mason Geller scored two quick goals in the game’s first minute. From there, however, it was all Aspen.
Brady Haisfield notched three straight goals from in close. The attackman bounced an over the shoulder shot from just outside the crease, then came back 29 seconds later to score on an amazing side shot to the right corner with his back to the goal.
After killing the penalty to open the second, VMS relinquished a sixth straight Skier point.
“We had a stretch there where we weren’t doing the things we’ve been doing all year,” VMS head coach Stephen Michel said of the 6-0 Aspen run.
“We try to keep teams out of transition and try to get them playing six-on-six because we’ve got the athletes to play with anybody in that situation, but we got caught out and our defense had to slide up field and it opened them up.”
Morale was low until Vidal wound up for a low to high straightaway goal halfway through the quarter. Connor Provencher heard the call, scoring from the wing at 3:41.
“He’s the guy who settles us down,” Michel said of Provencher.
Then, Geller let an Aspen defender ride him all the way around the goal before getting his stick high and launching in a fadeway shoulder shot to make it 6-5 with 1:33 left in the half.
In the third, Gurtman got going. The junior captain bounced in a score 90 seconds into the period. Two possessions later, the Gore Ranger defense desperately tried to force him left, but it didn’t matter. The all-conference player scored again to make it 8-6.
On the other side, Geller was doing his best to keep the Gore Rangers relevant, scoring twice on wrap around goals from the wing. Carter Large wound up from deep during an Aspen unreleasable, tying the game 8-8 at the end of the quarter.
“It was like one goal at a time – and bring it back – and that’s what we did. That’s how we were able to get back and tie it up,” Michel said of the rally.
Despite their valiant fight, VMS never reclaimed their lead from the game’s first minute.
With 5:37 remaining and the score 9-9 after a Peter Hughes VMS goal, Gurtman bounced a rocket from deep that was deafening to the crowd and deflating to the boys in white. Aidan Flynn made the unselfish extra pass to a cutting Ryan Rigney on the following possession, reclaiming the Skiers’ two-goal lead. VMS scored with 2:50 to go, but Flynn made it a two-score game 13-seconds later off a wonderful feed from Brady Haisfield.
“Aspen is not notorious for being chippy guys, but we tried to instill that fight in them – clean fight of course – you know they’ve come to prove it, so we’re just continuing our journey,” Cox said.
“Especially coming off the season we did last year, we had something to prove. VMS is a great program — props to their coach Steve, he’s unbelievable.”
Michel returned praise to Aspen’s coaching staff as well, adding “they were just better than we were today.”
“We fought the whole game, til the last second; that’s a credit to these kids,” Michel summarized.
With the win, No. 11 Aspen advances to the quarterfinals to face No. 3 Cheyenne Mountain. VMS ends their season with a record of 12-4.
“Led by 12 seniors and they poured their hearts out on this field. It just didn’t go our way — sometimes that happens — a couple of balls bounce a different way and it’s a different result,” Michel said.
“Couldn’t be prouder of this team and what they’ve accomplished this year.”