Rebels deny Cougars share of title

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Third-period flurry helps Columbine to lock up Foothills Conference crown

By Michael Hicks

LAKEWOOD — Winning a boys lacrosse conference championship is uncharted territory for Columbine. It had never happened before. And though the Rebels knew what was on the line when they played Evergreen on April 25 at Trailblazer Stadium, they also knew it wouldn’t come easy.
And it didn’t. But Columbine stayed the course and a third-period flurry would be all it would need to make history.
Jack Stebbins, Jake Gonzales and Ryan Kelly each scored four times as Columbine won its first Foothills Conference championship with a 13-7 victory over Evergreen. The Rebels (13-3 overall, 7-0 conference) have won eight straight, including wins over Heritage for a second straight Littleton Cup title and an 8-7 decision at Mullen in the season finale on April 28.
“We are feeling real confident, but we know we’re going to have to play better. We know we have to give people our best out there. That’s what other teams are expecting,” said Columbine head coach Matt Plitnick, whose team has yet to lose to an in-state foe this season. All three losses came during a spring break trip to California.
Playing its best wasn’t always the case in the first half, Plitnick said.
Even though the Rebels led 5-3 at the intermission after back-to-back goals from Kelly and Gonzales to close the second quarter, his team’s play was lackadaiscal and stagnant, Plitnick said. They weren’t moving their feet on offense, he said. That changed early in the third.
Stebbins scored three of his four goals in the quarter as Columbine built its largest lead of the game at 11-4. Dalton Sierra scored the Rebels’ other goal.
“They came out flying. They played really well in the first half,” Kelly said. “The third quarter we had to come out fired up to keep them off the board and really score a bunch goals in that quarter. I think we did that pretty well.”
While Columbine came out after halftime fired up, Evergreen certainly was not.
“We didn’t come out as fired up in the second half,” said Evergreen’s Braden Olson, who along with Scott Crews scored three goals each for the Cougars (11-3, 5-2), who lost a second straight 9-7 at St. Mary’s on April 28. Reilly Fletcher had Evergreen’s other goal. “In the beginning of the third they jumped out on us and we couldn’t respond. We kept fighting, but it just wasn’t enough. They had that good transition fastbreak and we couldn’t do anything about it.”
Evergreen, which started out the season 10-0, has lost three of four since. In those four games, the Cougars gave up 48 goals. They only surrendered 42 in the first 10. But two of those games were against conference foes Wheat Ridge and Columbine, both of whom are ranked in the top 13 by laxpower.com.
“We knew when the schedule came out that we were so backloaded as far as strength of schedule. That had a lot to do with it,” Evergreen head coach Jon Cohen said. “At the same time, Columbine doesn’t make it easy on you. We say good teams make you pay when you turn the ball over. They made us pay with seven goals off of turnovers and that’s what’s going to happen.”
In spite of struggling down the stretch, the tough end-of-season schedule can only help, Cohen said.
“It’s good we played such tough teams at the end of the year. There are no softballs in the state tournament. It’s good we’re playing all these tough teams now,” Cohen said.