“I’m very proud of them, they competed very hard”
By Than Acuff
It was quite the abrupt reintroduction to the season for the Crested Butte Titans lacrosse team. After a week off for the April school break, during which many of the Titans spent the time at a resort in Jamaica or beaches elsewhere, they had one practice before hosting the Grand Junction Tigers, a team they lost to by six goals earlier this year. Tuesday’s contest was played in a driving snowstorm in Gunnison.
The Titans headed into the April Break on a roll winning four games in a row and moving up in the league standings just below the Tigers. And throughout the first half, it looked as if the Titans barely lost a step over the break. Aside from some sloppy stick skills, which could be attributed to the weather, the Titans opened the game ready for a battle scoring two minutes into the game. Jack Pierson was denied on a look in close, but Brendan Hartigan soon followed that up to score. The Titans defense and goalie Gavin Fischer made up for the teams’ sloppy play on attack and Crested Butte scored again when Fischer made a save in a man down situation and sent a long clearing pass to defenseman Riley Davis breaking up field. Davis carried the ball and found Luke Walton in front of the cage with a pass and Walton finished the sequence for a 2-0 Titans’ lead.
Fraser Birnie continued to win faceoffs and the Titans looked in control before Grand Junction scored with a minute left to pull back within one by the end of the first quarter.
The two teams then traded off strikes to open the second quarter. Walton netted a second goal to rebuild their two-goal lead, but the Tigers answered back with two goals to tie the game up. But, once again, Birnie won the ensuing faceoff and after the Titans lost possession on offense, Pierson picked off a clearing pass by Grand Junction and fed Walton in front of the Grand Junction crease for Walton’s third goal of the game. Three minutes later Walton fed Hartigan and Hartigan barreled through three Tigers to score for a 5-3 Titans’ lead. Grand Junction answered back with 19 seconds left in the half, but Birnie won the ensuing faceoff and threw a pass in Walton’s direction. Walton scooped up the errant pass and fired a quick shot to score with seven seconds left to put the Titans on top 6-4 at halftime.
“We played really strong in that first half, I was very pleased,” says coach Buck Seling. “We only had one penalty, the discipline was there, and they had a never-say-die attitude.”
The halftime break gave Grand Junction a chance to recuperate, and they came out in the third quarter determined to dictate play. Using physicality and ball pressure to disrupt the Titans, Grand Junction scored two goals in a span of one minute to tie the game early in the third quarter. They continued to pressure and dominate possession and scored in a man up situation in the final minutes of the third for their first lead of the game.
“We didn’t do anything different,” says Seling. “I think it was a combination of a couple of things. Their key guys turned on and they were pressuring the ball a lot more. They always pressure high, and we can get past them one-on-one and force a long slide usually, but we couldn’t.”
The fourth quarter started out rough much like the third quarter for the Titans. Fischer made some key saves early on but a chaotic ground ball in front of Crested Butte’s goal resulted in a Grand Junction goal to pull ahead 8-6 with six minutes left in the game.
The Titans slowly but surely started to regain their composure and once they were all even, they turned the game back in their favor. The switch in momentum eventually paid off as Walton drew three Tiger players and found Pierson open with a pass and Pierson scored to pull the Titans back within one goal with two minutes left to play.
Birnie won the ensuing faceoff, Seling called a timeout, and the Titans set themselves up for success with a strong line up and plans in place.
“We really had a chance, you’re never out of it,” says Seling.
After a couple of miscues following the timeout, the Titans got a great look on net only to have the ball ping off the crossbar. Moments later they had two more chances as the sloppy conditions and bad visibility led to some mayhem in front of Grand Junction’s net, but the game-tying goal never came as the Titans fell 8-7. Walton led the team with four goals and two assists and Fischer finished the day with 14 saves while Birnie lost just four faceoffs all game long.
“We lost to them by six goals earlier in the season so it was great improvement from one game to the other,” says Seling. “I’m very proud of them, they competed very hard. I thought it was an evenly competitive game and it was great to be a part of it.”
The Titans continue on a very hectic and competitive schedule as they face the top team in the league, Fruita Monument, twice including a home game at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 28 when the seniors will be recognized. They then host Montrose on Tuesday, May 2 at 4 p.m. and then hit the road to play Telluride on Wednesday, May 3.