LAKEWOOD — After beginning the season with six straight losses, the Boulder lacrosse team could have packed it in.
Instead, the Panthers went the other way. They battled their way out of the funk, re-established some pride and fought until the final seconds of the regular season — literally.
Boulder was looking for the equalizer against Dakota Ridge as the Trailblazer Stadium clock ticked down the final seconds of the regular season Friday night, but the visiting Panthers had to settle for a deftly-played 8-7 loss to the playoff-bound Eagles.
“We don’t like to say it’s a moral victory, because moral victories are when you expect to lose,” Boulder first-year head coach Collin Knowles said. “Our expectations were to come in and win, so we’re disappointed. But I’m happy with how the guys fought.”
Boulder (6-9, 3-5) virtually matched Dakota Ridge (11-4, 6-2) the entire way in the Class 5A Front Range League battle, and the Panthers drew to within one on a tally by Zach Brode with 33.9 seconds left. The Panthers then won the draw, but didn’t get the quality look they wanted as the Dakota Ridge defense held its ground.
The Panthers exhibited good balance with six different scorers, and Knowles termed standout freshman goalie Jonny Coletta “the best player on the field.” The solid effort was the continuation of a midseason turnaround for Boulder, a transformation from a team that couldn’t find a way to win to one that finished 6-3 down the stretch.
“If we played them at the beginning of the year, would the score be 8-7 with us with the ball at the end?” Knowles said. “Who knows? But the idea is that we had a chance to continue to play.”
The sturdy finish gives players, particularly departing seniors such as Caleb Donovan, a much fonder season to look back on.
“Absolutely. I’m thrilled we were able to be the team that we knew we could be,” Donovan said. “It was kind of hard, because we created a lot of hype for ourselves, high, high expectations. Then after those first six, it would have been really easy to roll over.”
Donovan was the only Panthers player with multiple goals, and in actuality, he only scored one. He was awarded another on a strange play in which Dakota Ridge goalie Tanner Pauley saved a shot from Brandon Jacobs, then after looking for an outlet, mistakenly dropped the ball into his own net.
The contest was tight throughout, as neither team had more than a two-goal spread. Taylor Davis scored four goals to lead the Eagles, including three in the third quarter.
Coletta capped his brilliant freshman season with 12 saves, giving the Panthers high hopes for the future.
“There’s tons of room for growth,” Donovan said. “We have a great freshman class who are going to be sophomores. Some of these kids even took me off the field every once in a while, and while that frustrates me, I recognize that these kids are going to be so far past what I am in a few years.”
While finishing three games below .500 in itself was a disappointment, the head of steam the Panthers accumulated heading into the offseason is encouraging.
“I’d much rather lose the first six than the last six,” Knowles said.
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Dakota Ridge 8, Boulder 7
At Trailbazer Stadium
Boulder 2 2 1 2 — 7
Dakota Ridge 2 1 3 2 — 8
Goals — Boulder: Donovan 2, Malone, Heyman, Jacobs, Fox, Brode; Dakota Ridge: Davis 4, Schneider 2, Butler, Sebald.
Assists — Boulder: Donovan 2, Jacobs, Fox; Dakota Ridge: Okubo 3, Williams, Jessen.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Dakota Ridge: Pauley (48-7-8); Boulder: Coletta (48-8-12).