ERIE — The common perspective among playoff teams, whether being the favorite or the underdog, is the first round of any postseason represents a breath of fresh air, albeit with the twist of needing to fill up the lungs with a heavy intake and getting all that you can out of it.
The Erie lacrosse team on Tuesday night were able to do just that in their lopsided home win over Eagle Valley to open Class 4A bracket play. All the playoff experience aside, the Tigers appeared ready to capitalize on what they’ve built over this current regular season, and perhaps even more importantly learn to adjust and correct mistakes in the midst of an elimination game as the challenges grow steeper.
What could be considered a slow start for the Tigers turned into a 15-1 rout over the Devils Tuesday, with EHS pitching a shutout in the second half and allowing the visitors just six shots on goal throughout the contest. A few early turnovers in the offensive zone were calmly shaken off, and the Tigers became more aggressive on both ends of the field as play went on, leading to a win and a chance to host a quarterfinal on Friday.
“It’s definitely a bit of a different feel this week, every single practice the past week coach (Nick Mandia) brings us in and makes sure we’re really dialed, and anytime we’re off at all we huddle it together and make sure we’re doing the right thing and playing sharp,” said Cam Cramer, who scored three consecutive goals to start the second half as Erie blew the gates wide open. “We have a lot of guys on this team that know what it’s like to lose in a state championship game. We’re hungry, just a lot of the guys on this team are real hungry.”
In Eagle Valley (8-7), the Tigers (13-2) had an opponent in the first round they had faced previously and had defeated rather handily. The two contests mirrored one another on the scoreboard as that game on April 15 ended a 15-3 EHS win.
Erie head coach Nick Mandia was confident enough in his club to get going early that the Tigers rolled out a few new offensive schemes Tuesday, and he later said that could have been why the team had some uncharacteristic unforced turnovers early on that kept the game scoreless for nearly four minutes. However, a power-packed Christian Adams drive to the prime scoring area with 8:03 remaining in the first quarter broke the stalemate, and Erie proceeded to score the next three goals of the frame and a fourth just 51 seconds into the second quarter.
Eagle Valley possessed very little — thank Tyler Gardner’s face-off ability for much of that — but the Devils did get a transition goal from Philip Petersen off a pass from Koby Beaumont with 10:49 left before half to get EVHS on the board. However, the Tigers were up for an immediate response and it was a sidearm rocket from Adam Bristow that provided it. Bristow took advantage of a defender slipping on the damp EHS turf and took one step right before firing one past goalie Mason Yurcak.
Drew Sands and Jackson Keener extended the lead before half. But it was Cramer’s little run of scores in the beginning stages of the third that really showed just how quick the Tigers can score. Finishing off his mini-run of 51 seconds, Gardner found Cramer looming in Yurcak’s vicinity right off a face-off win to make it 11-1.
The Tigers never looked back, mostly because of the stick play defensively that didn’t allow many good Devils attempts to be had. Goalie Tim Beach needed to stop just five shots, and the senior-heavy backline were tremendous in creating ground balls.
“Our focus in the first half was acknowledging any mistakes, acknowledging where we weren’t diligent enough and then showing that growth mindset,” Mandia said. “I thought I saw that evident in the second half, with far less turnovers, better effort on ground balls, clearing better, riding better.”
“Our D is always awesome, and those starting guys being all seniors, with a lot of experience, all committed (to continue playing in college), they’re awesome,” Cramer added.
Besides Cramer’s five-goal total, balance was the name of the game for the Tigers. Nine different players scored goals, with Sands and Keener the only other multi-goal scorers. Keener added two assists and the team was credited with eight of them on the 15 goals.
Erie will face Golden on Friday, after the Demons beat Thomas Jefferson in the first round. Game time is set for 7 p.m.