ARVADA — No matter what the sport, highly competitive late-season contests are always the most fun.
It helps, of course, when a victory over a formidable opponent at that stage of the season clinches a team a spot in the playoffs. On Wednesday at the North Area Athletic Complex, sixth-ranked Fairview boys lacrosse brought the fire against a strong Ralston Valley team, taking them to task until the very end as the Knights pulled off a 6-4 victory.
“They were a great test,” head coach Matthew Kelley said. “They’re a well-coached team and we knew that coming in. It was pretty much the game we expected. I think it came down to it that if they won it, they would have forced us into a tie for first in the league. They were hungry.”
Now, the Knights will have the automatic bid to the Class 5A state playoffs. One last incredibly difficult test on Friday will determine where they’re seeded once the brackets get released.
The Mustangs, however, would not go quietly into the night on Wednesday as they scored two goals in the final 90 seconds and dominated on the attack to really make the Knights sweat.
That didn’t seem to faze senior goalie Brooks Catlin, though.
“We had some difficulties with penalties,” he said. “We had some penalties and I think they had three of their four goals from penalties, so that was pretty tough. They had one transition goal. They were getting momentum there. Our offense slowed down a little bit, but we held out.”
The Knights and Mustangs began the game with impenetrable goalkeeping and fairly even play as neither team found the back of the net before the end of the first quarter.
That all changed in the opening minute and a half of the second frame when Fairview decided to claim the momentum that didn’t exist in the 12 minutes prior. Senior midfielder Jack Wirth led that charge with two back-to-back goals in the span of three minutes.
That lit the fire that Fairview’s offense was looking for. By the time the buzzer sounded for halftime, Fairview led 3-0.
Both teams simmered back down in the third quarter and returned to a more competitive style of play. That’s when Ralston Valley — or, more specifically, Lane Kellogg — started to fight back. By the end of the third quarter, Ralston Valley got on board and the Knights increased their advantage to 5-1.
That trend didn’t hold throughout the final 12 minutes, however.
As the clock wound closer and closer to zeroes, the Mustangs decided to go into do-or-die mode and jacked up the offensive pressure on the Knights. Throughout most of Ralston Valley’s charge, the Knights’ defense held firm and wouldn’t let them gain any ground.
Still, the Mustangs found a way in the final minute and 21 seconds to break through twice. With 1:11 remaining and a score that quickly changed from 6-2 to 6-4, the end game could have easily swung in Ralston Valley’s favor. Fairview held it off just long enough for the final buzzer to ring that sweet sound of victory.
The Knights return to their home field on Friday night at 7 p.m., but their final game of the regular season will be no easy task. They’ll have to get past the No. 1 team in the state, Mountain Vista, to determine how high their seeding will be come tournament time.
Catlin believes that no matter what happens that night, his team has what it takes to make it far in the postseason. And he knows exactly what the Knights need to do to get there.
“This team just has a great culture,” he said. “We’ve built that all four years. Our seniors have done a great job. We’re trying to have one last ride on our way out. We’re trying to make history at Fairview and be the best team ever. I just feel everybody on our team has contributed and I’m just so thankful. … We all have to work. We have to come out firing from the first whistle. Everybody’s bound to be positive. We just have to live up to our potential and do everything the best we can.”