Scott Charlson/The Siskiyou
Tyler Baumann (#18), Zach Schmerber (#50) and the Raiders celebrate their hard-fought quarterfinal victory over rival Western Oregon Saturday.
Puddles of blood, sweat, tears and rain were spilled in Monmouth, Ore. Saturday as No. 18 Southern Oregon Lacrosse eliminated No. 16 Western Oregon to advance to the PNCLL Final Four for the second straight year.
The bitter rivals landed ground-shaking hits from the opening faceoff until the final horn, when the scoreboard read SOU 11, WOU 10. The Raiders left what was left of the muddy battlefield with a date with No. 5 Montana this weekend in Tacoma.
Play was sluggish at first as sloppy weather conditions made ball control tricky. The intensity expected of a rivalry playoff game was perhaps exceeded, as bodies flew everywhere and translated into early penalties on both sides.
The undermanned Raiders paid an early toll for the rough play. Freshman Adam Kraushoar left the game for the emergency room midway through the first quarter after enduring a helmet-to-helmet collision. By the day’s end, Kraushoar had seven stitches to close a gash over his left eye. SOU was left to play the rest of the game with only 13 players.
The Wolves of Western marked the scoreboard first as Brandon Benfield scored while each team had a man serving penalty time. Mark Haner would strike soon after for the Wolves from about 20 feet out to give WOU a 2-0 lead.
SOU coach Mark Brown tried shaking things up a bit early by inverting the offense, putting attack-men at midfield. The strategy worked as attack-man Alex White cleared the ball from SOU’s defensive end and into the WOU box. There he found midfielder Nick Reiten open in front of the crease for the goal to bring the Raiders within one.
The squads got a feel for the wet conditions later in the first quarter as the teams traded long offensive possessions that translated into goals for WOU’s Anthony Harman and SOU’s Chris Shisler. WOU would strike twice more in the quarter as Harman caught a cross-crease pass to tally his second of the day and Kyle McWhirter added another soon after. The Raiders ended the quarter with their largest deficit of the game at 5-2.
Early in the second quarter, freshman Bubba VanEgdom single-handedly stopped a WOU defensive-end clear. He then picked up the loose ball and took it to the cage himself, placing his shot in the bottom-left corner to bring SOU back within two.
The Raiders controlled the ball for most of the first seven minutes of the second quarter. They displayed good ball movement and possession, but couldn’t get a good shot at WOU goalie Steven Blair.
An SOU penalty gave the Wolves a man-advantage and they made the Raiders pay. WOU’s Joshua Butterwegge scored while being run over by league Defensive MVP hopeful Dan Snell. Snell received a penalty for the hit and SOU would stay a man down for another minute. On the ensuing faceoff, VanEgdom crushed Harman and received a penalty of his own. The penalties left SOU two men down for nearly a minute. Freshman goalie Carter Boggess came up with two tough saves to end Wolves’ possessions and kill off the penalties.
SOU senior Zack Schmerber brought the Raiders within one with about a minute left in the half. Western responded by calling a timeout. Snell won the following faceoff and Coach Brown called a quick timeout to draw up a play for the end of the half. The Raiders executed beautifully and Tyler Baumann found White on the crease for his second goal of the game to tie the clash at six with about 30 seconds left in the half.
It seemed the game would be tied at the half, but the Wolves didn’t see it that way. The WOU offense scrambled in the final seconds of the half and managed to slip the ball past Boggess to take a 7-6 lead into halftime.
The Raiders controlled the ball for much of the second half as Snell won nearly every faceoff in the half. VanEgdom started the third quarter nicely for the Raiders as he cleared the ball into the offensive end. He then dished to Baumann who drove to the cage for his only goal of the game. The battle was tied at seven.
Western responded with a goal from Calvin Davis. Soon after, Snell took another penalty on a big hit and the Raiders were a man down.
On the ensuing WOU possession, SOU defender Landon Spady was hit with a shot toward the cage. In his pain, he lost good defensive positioning and McWhirter scored to boost the WOU lead back to two, at 9-7.
VanEgdom continued his workhorse ways as he won several ground-ball battles and cued a handful of fast break opportunities. The Raiders possessed the ball well and drew WOU penalties because of it. Despite controlling the pace, SOU couldn’t seem to get a shot on goal. Western had built some momentum, and perhaps it could have carried them to the end if it weren’t for penalties. Blair earned a technical foul for some choice words for an official. WOU’s Benfield was flagged for a late hit soon after and the Raiders found themselves with a two-man advantage late in the third quarter.
VanEgdom scored his second goal of the game on the ensuing possession. Coach Brown is coming to expect strong performances such as Saturday’s from the freshman.
“Bubba is amazing for a first-year player,” said Brown. “He has stepped up. He’s scored points in our last three or four games that he’s played in and he’s a rookie.”
As the third quarter neared it’s end, Schmerber added his second as White found him on the cage doorstep for the put away to tie the game at nine.
Baumann was called for a slash with 30 seconds left in the quarter and WOU used the advantage to find Butterwegge for a goal from about 15 feet out. The goal gave the Wolves a 10-9 lead going into the final stanza.
Between quarters, Brown preached a message of smart, penalty-free lacrosse. He said if they stayed out of the penalty box, they would win the game. He was right.
The Wolves started the quarter strong. SOU got a pair of lucky breaks on the defensive end as one WOU shot struck post and soon after, a WOU pass to an open man on the crease was simply dropped. Any momentum mounted by the Wolves soon vanished as their penalty woes continued.
White tied it up with his third score of the game as he used an extra-man opportunity to drive to the net and hit the top-right corner of the net from left of the crease. Soon after, the defender covering White broke his stick and left the field. The poorly timed substitution left SOU with a free man-advantage which White used to drive to the net, this time the right side, to score what would be the game winner.
SOU maintained ball possession for most of the remainder of the game. A WOU penalty in the final two minutes retarded the Wolves’ ability to mount a rally. In the final minute, Western pulled out all the stops and forced Boggess to make several critical saves in the waning seconds. The Raiders weathered the storm and came out 11-10 winners.
The Raiders have at times struggled to keep their heads above water since the loss of Jamison Whitehead, but Brown says his team’s “refuse to lose” attitude has gotten them through tough times.
“That team’s got a lot of heart,” said Brown. “They’re always outnumbered and they just keep fighting.”
The win is SOU’s third straight over their rival. The two teams each came into existence three years ago when the Wolves made the playoffs and the Raiders went 3-5. The Raiders have ended the Wolves’ season each of the last two years since then, and now make their second straight appearance in the final four.
The Raiders earned a second shot at No. 5 Montana who shelled them, 18-7, three weeks ago. The Raiders have rallied as of late with Saturday marking their second-straight come-from-behind win.
Bubba VanEgdom knows Montana is a tough nut to crack, but he believes his team has the potential to earn the program’s first win over the perennial powerhouse.
“We definitely have talent on the team,” said VanEgdom. “There’s a lot of potential. Montana is a really good team, but we have a chance against them for sure.”
Brown says his team will need to play a perfect game to knock off Montana.
“We just have to figure out how to play the best we can for four quarters,” said Brown. “We haven’t done that this year. If we play the best we can for 60 minutes, we can beat them.”