Last year’s D1 playoffs had a lot of emotional games. There was lots of contention, lots of controversy, lots of hurt feelings and lots of elation. The question is, how important is that this year? How long are the locker room memories? This past week was the time that we learned how long team’s can effectively hold a grudge. Three big games from last year’s playoffs were this week’s rematches, and Soundlacrosse was there to cover all of them.
“This was a gut check for us, and the boys are warriors. This can be a special year for us if they continue to play well.” – Coach Sam Hutson, Skyline.
Last year’s quarterfinal game at Bainbridge ended poorly for the Spartans from Sammamish. Up by one with the ball and under a minute left in the game, Skyline let the game slip into overtime, where they had the game winning goal wiped off the board with an offsides call. In 2015, Bainbridge would travel to the plateau to face Skyline for the first time since that heartbreaker.
First of all, let’s just say, all the adults were well behaved. The focus was on the field, where it should be. Bainbridge is not the team now that they were at the end of last season. Numbers continue to be down, with just 27 players in the program, and more than half of those are underclassmen. Five freshmen are playing significant minutes, led by freshman starting goalie, Charlie Shrout, who’s responded with a 58% save percentage. Skyline on the otherhand, sports 11 seniors, big athletes who have been playing together awhile. This group, when they were 8th graders, lost a close semifinal game to Issaquah in the GELL youth championships, the state’s toughest youth league. This, their senior year has been anticipated for a while.
This game would prove to be all Skyline, a 14-3 victory. The horses were too big, too athletic and too experienced. They would get three hat tricks from three seniors, Andy Hutchings, Tyler Johnston and Kingco points leader Charlie Kurtenbach. The tough Skyline defense avenged last year’s lapses and only allowed Bainbridge nine shots on goal, total. Think of it this way, if Skyline had pulled their goalie on the opening faceoff, they still would have won 14-9. That’s how physically dominating they were.
They achieved their revenge over the Island Spartans, but that’s not what their season is focused on. They’ve already clinched a playoff berth, gone undefeated in a Maryland spring break trip, and have stumbled only twice, in OT losses to Bellevue and Issaquah. This team is poised to make some noise, and no one wants to face them in the playoffs, with revenge on their minds.
“2014 doesn’t even matter any more,” says Bellevue Coach John Baumann, Coach of the 2014 state champions, “It’s time to focus on this season and how to win this year.”
Eastside Catholic has quietly developed one of the best home field advantages in Washington lacrosse, and in last year’s semi-finals, they used it to full advantage. After stunning Mercer Island in the quarterfinals, they engineered a 2nd half comeback that stole all the momentum from a Bellevue team that would recover to steal the game in overtime and go on to win the 2014 state championship. Crusader hearts were crushed.
This year’s rematch turned out to be just as exciting, all the way to the end. In a driving rainstorm, the Crusaders built a 5-2 halftime lead, on the back of a tough, aggressive defense and extraordinary goalie play from Josh Matte. The Crusader’s defense tone was set early by junior defenseman Parker Davidson, a strapping beast who let everyone know early they were going home with bruises.
Eastside Catholic was effective on defense, dedicating a man to locking off Bellevue’s stud midfielder Augie Fratt, daring anyone else to try and carry the team offensively. It worked in the first two periods, but the halftime adjustments by Bellevue’s coaches led the Wolverines to tie the game at the end of three periods, with their defense shutting out the Crusaders in the quarter. It ended 5-5, but Bellevue would start the 4th quarter man-down on a controversial three-minute non-releasable penalty and ejection on their captain and defensive leader Jack Albrecht. The official’s call seemingly ignored retaliatory punches thrown by the EC player and emotions were hot on both benches and in the stands.
Senior attackman Zack Steffens made Bellevue pay for going two men down as he blistered a shot from 16 yards for the first of what would be six 4th quarter goals for the Crusaders. Steffens would end the night with six goals, and seemed personally dedicated to making sure that Bellevue never had a thought of another overtime victory. The Wolverine offense could only manage one shot on cage in the quarter, as the combination of penalties and a strong, aggressive EC defense kept their offense in check as the game quietly whimpered out. The Crusaders got their revenge with a 12-6 thumping, and the Wolverines left with more questions than answers. Eastside Catholic would head into a game at Mercer Island with only one early season, out-of-state loss blemishing their record. Having achieved their 2014 revenge, they would next face a Mercer Island team looking to do the same.
“I told the men that this was their chance to send a statement, that this is their time to rise above, and that I believed in them.”
Kevin Mincio, Mercer Island assistant coach.
There was no bigger surprise in last year’s playoffs than the 19-11 drubbing that Eastside Catholic put on the Islanders in 2014. 40 players return from the two rosters that faced off last year, but this time the rematch would be in The Jungle, arguably the biggest home field advantage any Washington lacrosse team enjoys. The Islanders brought an undefeated record to the game, while the Crusaders had a lone out-of-state blemish, with a fresh Bellevue pelt hanging around their waist.
Bad feelings clearly still linger from that 2014 playoff game, and everyone involved, including the school administration, clearly felt there was a powder keg waiting to go off. There was an extra police presence in the parking lot, a huge DMZ in the center of the stands, the largest blocked-off middle section of seats that has ever been seen in a regular season game. A crowd of over 800, including more than 400 students standing for the whole game, was loud, enthusiastic and engaged even though they were separated by 100’ of empty bleachers. It was certainly the biggest lacrosse crowd in the state so far this year. The referees were prepared as well; bringing a FOUR man crew to this, a non-league game that would have no impact on anyone’s playoff aspirations.
Coach Lewis Ratcliff has returned to lead the Crusaders and to make a bid to unseat Lake Washington’s Dejon Hush as the state’s best dressed coach. The cross that his team still unfairly has to bear is that people sometime doubt the legitimacy of their claim to membership in the lacrosse aristocracy. This misperception is going away quickly, but playing in a markedly weaker conference sometimes stains their success in minds of lesser-informed fans. The Crusaders quickly put that to rest as they jumped out to a 5-1 lead before anyone had taken their seats. The four referees weren’t entirely uninvolved, as all of the goals were scored either man down, or double man down. The message was sent that all the rough play was going to have to be controlled or you’d be spending time in the box. The message was sent but not necessarily heeded, as penalties and rough play would continue throughout the game on both sides of the ball.
Stunned and now down 6-1 early in the 2nd quarter, the Islanders had every right to stand down, play the game out, and seek their revenge another day. To their immense credit, they chose not to. Slowly and methodically, they reeled off seven straight unanswered goals to take an 8-6 halftime lead, completing one of the great comebacks in recent memory.
The Crusaders offense was led by James Wehe who would finish with four goals and two assists, but most of it in the first quarter. Zack Steffens would add a hat trick, but ultimately the offense fizzled out in the second half. Play continued to be rough. At one point, comically, there were six flags and a hat laying on the field. 11 penalties were called overall. The Islanders’ Brett Bottomley fought his way through the laundry to four goals and an assist, and senior stud Evan Condon added a hat trick.
Eastside Catholic left The Jungle feeling like there was an opportunity missed. But championships aren’t won in April, and there are surely more opportunities ahead. The Islanders on the other hand, tasted sweet revenge, as did Skyline and Eastside Catholic earlier in the week.
The avengers went 3-0 on the week, and made it clear that the top tier of Washington lacrosse includes more than the traditional four teams. The coming ten days feature many highly anticipated games, some of which will surely foreshadow the playoff rounds. Issaquah faces Bellevue on Saturday, then MI the following Friday. Bellevue has Issaquah Saturday then MI on Monday. Which, the smart among you have figured out means that Mercer Island plays Bellevue and Issaquah in the same week. But they also have to travel to Skyline that week. The Spartans meanwhile need to maximize their playoff position with a game against Woodinville, who is trying to hold on to the #5 Kingco spot. Meanwhile Thursday night, the Crusaders play O’Dea with the top Metro berth on the line after facing a hungry Eastlake team on Tuesday.
Pack a picnic dinner, DVR American Idol, and bring your kids out to watch some of the top teams in Washington lacrosse. History shows us that upsets are out there waiting to be had, which means there’s more revenge in store in 2016.