David Bergeland/Durango Herald
The Durango High School girls lacrosse team looked good for one half and particularly on one side of the field.
Often this season, that type of effort was enough.
Wednesday at Durango High School, it wasn’t.
Ralston Valley (9-7) scored five unanswered goals in the first half to jump-start the 20th-seeded Mustangs to a 7-3 first-round playoff victory Saturday at DHS Stadium and eliminate the Demons from the CHSAA Girls Lacrosse State Championships.
The Demons’ attack floundered in the program’s inaugural postseason game.
“I think that our offense was not up to snuff,” DHS goalkeeper Alyssa Spencer said. “Our offense couldn’t compete with our defense.”
Poorly chosen shots, unforced turnovers and flustered attackers hamstrung the Demons’ offense, which didn’t score its first goal until eight minutes into the second half.
Too often in the first half, the Demons’ attack would “forget where we are” or “get down on ourselves,” as senior attacker Siena Gumbiner put it, instead of focusing on putting together coherent scoring chances. They also made a habit of throwing away offensive opportunities to the Mustang defenders.
“I just felt like I needed to tell them, ‘You know, we’re not wearing white (Wednesday). We’re wearing red. Our jersey’s say Durango across the front,’” DHS head coach Jenni Darlow said.
That, and “a bad shot’s a turnover,” and “you don’t stall when you’re losing.”
“I really think we lost it for ourselves,” Darlow said.
Still, it wasn’t a typical Ralston Valley affair.
The Mustangs brought a high-scoring offense into Durango, having scored 175 goals over the season before Wednesday’s postseason game and conceded 196.
Against the Demons, though, it took Ralston Valley about seven minutes to score when Sara McMahon got a pass from Jenny Adams on a foul and beat Spencer down low from about 8 meters out.
Adams scored herself with 12:22 to go after she split a couple of Durango defenders and hit the right side of the net.
She repeated the trick three minutes later.
Carly Lichty scored off a rebound, the Mustangs hit three consecutive posts, and then Adams again split the defense for the final score of the first frame with four minutes to play.
Although the DHS defenders by and large succeeded at keeping the Mustangs from open shots and breakaway goals, they had fits actually creating turnovers.
“Stick skills,” Darlow said. “They have the best stick skills of any team we’ve played.”
Ralston Valley head coach Katie Lohmiller said strong basics are a key element in any Mustangs’ victory.
“That’s a huge point of emphasis for us: groundballs, draw control, stick skills,” Lohmiller said.
Ralston Valley outshot Durango 10 shots to five in the first half. After the break, however, the Demons started looking like they wanted to score.
Twenty seconds into second-half play, Jessie Ransford barely missed on a breakaway.
It was Gumbiner, though, with 17:01 to play who finally put her team on the board.
On her own, the Fort Lewis College recruit drove through the Mustang defense, juked a defender, spun the other way and beat Ralston Valley keeper Nicole Schafer low from up close.
“The light started to go out a little,” Gumbiner said about the five-goal deficit. “I was like ‘I’m so glad I got that goal; everybody’s pumped.’ Sometimes words don’t do enough.”
Ransford returned the favor a minute later, wrapping around behind the net and scoring high on a turnaround jump shot.
The ray of hope that gave the Demons – and the “stress” it put on Lohmiller – didn’t last too long, though.
McMahon put the Mustangs back up by four with 10 minutes to go, and Adams added another less than 10 seconds later.
Spencer, another FLC signee, made 11 saves for the Demons. The daughter of Rhoda Spencer said that was 90 percent of her full potential; 100 percent would have saved a goal or two, she said.
“Well, we won the second half,” Darlow said.
“It was great to make the playoffs this year. I always want to be a little bit better. I wanted to be better.”
DHS finished the season 10-3 and Mountain League champion – another first for the Demons – while Ralston Valley advanced to the second round and No. 4 Regis Jesuit on Saturday in Denver.