According to the clock the game hadn’t started, yet Bellevue was down 1-0 to Eastside Catholic. The net was ringing, Bellevue goalie Austin Boyd was stunned and Eastside Catholic’s Austin MacCord was jumping high in the air, having picked up a kicked ground ball and tomahawked a goal in from three yards; so quickly that the scorekeeper hadn’t had time to start the clock. 1-0 Crusaders, 12:00 minutes left in the period.
The Bellevue fans who were there to witness the play sat nonplussed. “That’s okay,” they thought, “We know this game is under our control.” Then Ross Komenda picked up a rebound that dribbled away from Boyd and buried it. Then Colin McIlvenie fed Komenda and middie Jeff Foreman for six yards rips. The Crusaders not only led 4-0 at the end of the 1st quarter, they had pitched a shutout at the vaunted Wolverine offense. Bellevue’s scorers only put two shots on cage in the first quarter and goalie Colin Schriever (13 saves) ate them both up.
Eastside Catholics fans stood cheering and singing in the stands. Everyone seemed happy the Crusaders got to finish a quarter with the lead, and the impending Wolverine juggernaut stood poised to strike. Bellevue retaliates with Cole Johnson, Eric Haehl and Blake Samuel, but the Crusaders answer with more Komenda, Will Bassetti and Drew Beggs. Eastside Catholic leads 6-3 at the end of the half and the Wolverine faithful knew they were in a dogfight, and feared they had stepped in much worse.
Bellevue, coming off their double-overtime heartbreaking loss to Issaquah, was experiencing some key outages amongst their regular players, including recent Ohio State commit, attackman Hank Bethke, who was on the sideline with unspecified damages. Still the Wolverines looked to have it won as soon as they stepped on the field. The Crusaders however, riding a four game winning streak, came into the game with a quiet confidence, knowing they could make a mark against any top team.
It would have been easy for Eastside Catholic to mail-in the 2nd half. To rest on their laurels and say “look how far our program has come, we were leading Bellevue at halftime.” But nobody told the players what laurels were and why they were good for resting. They came out just as strong in the second half. Just exactly as strong, in fact, as MacCord scored from the exact same spot on the field, dunking over the exact same goalie stick. This time, however the scorekeeper said the play took a few seconds off the clock.
The Crusaders zone stymied Bellevue just enough to throw off their rhythm. Middies still got open looks, but EC defenders seemed to always get a last second lift or deflection to render the shot harmless or the pass dropped. Offensively, Eastside’s attack showed good knowledge of the passing lanes, always finding a soft spot in Bellevue’s very experienced defense. Most of the shots came from within 7 yards of the cage, close shots perhaps reflecting Coach Ratcliff’s box roots. Bellevue committed senior defenseman Sam Leggett to dogging the Crusader’s Colin McIlvenie, and he was all up in his hands most of the night. He and the defense held him to one late goal on 14 shots, but McIlvenie tallied four assists. It was Komenda that the defense couldn’t find, losing track of him repeatedly throughout the night.
The teams traded two goals in the 3rd quarter and the 4th started with Eastside up 9-5. They won the opening faceoff, and showed that while they may not be stalling, they were going to eat up some serious clock while running their offense. A little parry and thrust later, it looked all over when Drew Beggs (2g) put EC up 12-7 with just under three minutes to play.
But Bellevue’s Drew Douglas (1g, 5a) found Cole Johnson (3g, 2a) for a far-pipe lefty shot with 2:28 left. Then he found Samuel down low on the left, who dodged in the island and buried a crossing shot at two minutes. Midfielder Andrew Gulrajani alley-dodged on the left and buried a high shot from 12 with 1:26 to go. And Johnson found Dakota Jones for a righthanded bouncer that ate Schriever up with 29 seconds left. It was now a slim 12-11 lead. Bellevue won the previous six faceoffs, but the Crusaders come up this last one, and immediately try to put the game clock in fast-forward mode. But Bellevue strips the ball on the near sideline, earns the groundball, and calls timeout, poised to deliver what everyone in the stadium foresees as the equalizer that sends us into overtime.
But that’s why they play the games. Nobody got the Crusaders to sign off on the script to that Hollywood ending. They reached down and sacked up, pressing their defense out as the Wolverines sniffed for a cutter to feed to the middle. Time slowed down as it did at the beginning of the game, and the Crusader defense rose up once more. Bellevue could only muster a 15 yard lollipop that Schriever licks up for his 13th save of the night before being buried by his screaming teammates after the horn sounded.
“Our boys stepped up huge,” grinned Coach Ratcliff after the game, “Very proud of them.” He now leads his team on a Spring Break bus trip to Idaho, against that state’s best competition. The Crusaders look to springboard off this win and that trip into a #2 seed in the Northeast Conference playoffs. The Wolverines face Northshore on the road Thursday night then fly to Long Island for a Spring Break gauntlet. They’ve got to decide whether tonight’s loss was a wakeup call, or just a reason to push the snooze button yet again.