Saturday’s battle between Eagle Valley and Vail Mountain School, ranked No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, in the RPI, had more than just local bragging rights on the line. With the 4A Western Slope League lead up for grabs, it was two lacrosse titans going toe-to-toe.
On their home field, the Gore Rangers brought the energy from the first whistle.
“Coach always has a pregame speech and those usually get us pretty fired up,” said Vail Mountain junior Max Vidal. Given the game’s importance, one could have expected a pretty powerful pep talk, but apparently the message was simple.
“It’s like, ‘hey, we’re defending our home,’” Coach Steve Michel said. “The seniors are the ones who got them going.”
The result: a convincing 12-6 win over a Devils team that came out slow and never looked in sync.
“We need to work on starting faster,” Eagle Valley captain Eric Hasley said afterward.
“Every game this season we’ve come out flat and good teams like VMS will capitalize on it.”
The Gore Rangers did just that, scoring two first quarter goals before Hasley brushed off Cole Pattison on a wrap around score at the 7:01 mark to make it 2-1. Finding another chink in the VMS defense’s armor would be rare.
“We studied a lot of film and went over their offense a lot in practice yesterday,” Vidal said. “We kind of just knew exactly what they were going to do and shut them down.”
Mason Geller scored the first of his team-leading four goals 30-seconds later to make it 3-1. On the other end, Erich Petersen slipped, recovered and ripped in a score, bringing the Devils within one again. After that goal, VMS didn’t give the explosive Petersen another inch.
“We just made sure we put a long stick on them (the Petersens) and try to not slide from them as much as possible,” Michel said about the defensive approach.
Goals from Provencher and Peter Hughes put VMS up 5-2 after one quarter. Early in the second, Geller found the back of the net after a penalty was called on Josh Bissett for kicking a grounded Gore Ranger pole. “Is this what we’re going to do today? Just make mental mistakes?” an audible frustration floated from the Eagle Valley bench at that moment.
A 6-on-4 Mason Geller goal, courtesy of two Devils’ penalties on one possession, seemed to answer the rhetorical questions.
The second half opened up a coast-to-coast Beck Sapp goal to put the home squad up 8-3.
“That pole goal from Beck was huge,” commented Vidal.
In what was probably the sole bright spot for the Devils, Hasley and Julius Petersen scored back-to-back goals in a two-minute stretch to pull within three. The final 2:30 of the period, however, belonged to Vail Mountain.
The rangy Pattison, whose physical stick play flustered the Devils attackmen all morning, stripped Petersen and ate up half of the field before dishing it to Vidal for a score. Seventy seconds later, a beautiful give-and-go from Provencher to Vidal off another 2-on-1 fastbreak made it 10-5.
“We love to push the ball in transition and anytime we get our three attackmen working together, it usually works out pretty well,” Provencher said.
With 20 seconds to go, the tandem coordinated an ESPN top-10 play of the week nomination. Provencher streaked behind the goal, launched an opposite field pass across his body and over the net to a cutting Vidal, who finished the sequence with a nasty behind the back score, his third straight.
“As a coach, I’m screaming ‘no, no, no,’ and then I’m screaming ‘yes, yes, yes!’” Michel said about the highlight reel.
The wind was out of the Devils’ proverbial sails at that point, though the Petersen brothers did manage a pick-and-roll score with 5:34 remaining to salvage the 12-6 final. Still, the lack of cohesive ball movement, combined with the stifling Gore Ranger defense, sufficiently stagnated the normally potent Eagle Valley attack.
“We were playing pretty selfish out there once we got down,” Hasley lamented. “We need to start playing as a team again, moving more on offense on and off the ball.”
“They definitely have a few guys,” Provencher said of the Devils’ star players.
“We knew about them coming in. But at the end of the day, coaches said we trust our guys on defense to do their job, just make sure we’re playing smart, sliding correctly and everything, and we did that.”
Despite the rough loss, Hasley found an optimistic element to the afternoon. “The positive is that we get ‘em again at home,” he said.
“We get to play this team again and hopefully come out as a whole different team.”
Vail Mountain heads to Aspen, who defeated the Gore Rangers in overtime March 24 — the Gore Rangers’ lone loss — on Tuesday. “They’re going to come to play,” Michel said of the Skiers, who gave the Devils all they could handle in an overtime loss in Gypsum on Wednesday. Provencher doesn’t anticipate any post-win letdown.
“I don’t think the guys will have any problem getting motivated for Aspen,” he said.
“We’re looking for revenge.”