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Late defensive stops fuel Kettle Run win over John Champe in conference boys lacrosse

Monday, May. 23 | By Jeff Malmgren
Jack Crosby scored one goal, had a team-high four ground balls and helped a Kettle Run defense limit John Champe to seven goals Monday during the Evergreen Conference tournament semifinals. --Fauquier Times Staff File Photo/Randy Litzinger
Carson Kroll and Hunter Khalatbari showcased their clutch defensive skills Monday, but their coach could have completely done without that.

He would have preferred that Kettle Run build a lead large enough to eliminate the need for any impressive defensive plays, but instead the Cougars required a handful of them during the final 90 seconds to escape with an 8-7 win over the John Champe Knights in the semifinals of the Evergreen Conference boys lacrosse tournament in Aldie.

“I didn't watch the last five minutes,” Scott Begley, Kettle Run's coach, said with a smile. “I hate these kind of one-goal games, but it's fun … when you come out on the side we did.

“It's just good for these kids,” he said of win. “We've got 11 seniors, so we didn't want this to be their last game.”

A pair of juniors – Kroll and Khalatbari – helped give those seniors at least one more game to play while Champe, the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, ended its season with a 10-6 record. The No. 3 Cougars (10-5) advanced to play in the Evergreen final Thursday against the winner of a semifinal game between No. 1 Freedom and No. 4 Culpeper. Rain postponed that match-up from Monday to Tuesday, while the Cougars-Knights game weathered a 45-minute delay before beginning.

If Freedom – the Evergreen regular season champion – beats Culpeper in the tournament semifinals, Kettle Run will earn a berth to the Class 4A North Region tournament along with the Eagles. A Culpeper win during the semifinals would force the Cougars to win the final to earn a region bid.

“I'm just so excited,” Khalatbari said of advancing to the final. “We lost to Freedom [two weeks ago]. We shouldn't have. I'm hyped. I'm ready to go out there and win.”

Freedom beat the Cougars, 14-10, May 14. Champe also defeated them during the regular season, 12-11, May 9. Kettle Run, however, played much better defense Monday during the rematch against Champe.

The Knights fell behind early, 4-1, before entering halftime in 5-5 tie. Then they scored only one goal in the third quarter and failed to score during the first 10 minutes of the fourth.

Over the final two minutes of the fourth, however, they frequently threatened to score, beginning with a Josiah Pittman goal that narrowed the Knights' deficit to 8-7 with 1:25 remaining. Seconds later, Pittman scooped up a ground ball to win the faceoff for Champe, and he charged up the middle of the field as Kettle Run defenders began to converge on him.

So Pittman whipped the ball forward toward a teammate near the right side of the cease only to watch Khalatbari thrust his stick into the passing lane for an interception.

“I just saw it in the air and went as hard as I could,” Khalatbari said. “When I got it, I just hit an extra speed. That's the fastest I've ever ran. I looked up field and passed it to the midi and started screaming. It felt great.”

By clearing the ball in that manner, Kettle Run appeared to clinch the victory, but the Knights regained possession and another Champe player ended up penetrating deep into the restraining box. That resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty on Kettle Run's Reese Scott, giving the Knights a man-up advantage for the final 50 seconds of regulation.

“You have to stay calm,” Kroll said of playing defense in such a precarious situation. “You can't freak out.”

On the restart with 50 seconds left, the Knights moved the ball around to try to create an open shot, but then Kroll stripped the ball from a Champe attackman with 20 seconds remaining. One of his Kettle Run teammates scooped the ball off the ground and launched it 60 yards to essentially seal the Cougars' victory.

“I just saw this kid had this look in his eyes that he was going to shoot,” Kroll said of forcing the turnover, “so I slid my hardest and just knocked his stick down. … The game was over. It feels great.”

So, for the 10th time this season, a Kettle Run opponent failed to score more than seven goals in a game.

“We talked through picks,” Khalatbari said of the defense. “We played great one-on-one. When we pressed them, we got the ball when we need to. Our midis played great defense.”

To sum up: the Cougars performed well in almost every way defensively. In doing so, they dropped their average to 7.4 goals allowed per game this season.

“They've just been a rock for us all year,” Begley said of his defensemen. “It's kind of getting back to 2012 when I had the comfort level … and you kind of get this warm, fuzzy feeling that something good's going to happen.”

The Cougars finished 2012 with a 16-1 record – the best mark in program history.

While Kettle Run's defense played well Monday, the Knights still attempted 29 shots. Connor LaChance and Trevor Tarring led the Knights with two goals each while Joe Son had three assists, but 12 saves by Cougars goalie Timmy Colgan had a major impact on limiting Champe's offensive production.

“We wouldn't have been in this game if Timmy hadn't had some of those saves,” Khalatbari said. “He was very clutch for us down the stretch.”

For example, with less than 5 minutes remaining in the fourth period, Colgan rejected a Champe shot on consecutive possessions to preserve Kettle Run's 7-6 lead.

“Timmy's on fire the last three or four games,” Begley said. “He's playing hockey with the kick saves.”

Champe goalie Mike Khun played similarly well and also finished with 12 saves on the Cougars' 33 shots.

“He stopped some big shots,” Knights coach Vik Ohri said, “and had he not been there, I don't think this game would have been half as close. He did a phenomenal job.”

So Tate Donaldson and Scott Dodge led the Cougars with only two goals each.

Khun's saves included at least three for which he rushed out of the cage to challenge a Kettle Run attackman one-on-one, resulting in a rejected shot each time.

“He tries to be aggressive,” Ohri said. “He's pretty good at that in general, but this was exceptional with some of the saves he made.”

Even the game-winning goal only got past Khun because the Cougars had a three-man advantage. With a shot from about 15 yards out as the Knights struggled to slide defensively because three of their players knelt in the penalty box, Matt Begley scored that goal to give Kettle Run an 8-6 lead with 1:43 remaining in the fourth.

“We just fell apart at the end,” Ohri said of the penalties. “That kind of killed us. We kind of lost our composure.”

With 2:15 remaining, Tommy Rackoski drew a flag for slashing. The Cougars then burned 21 seconds off the still-running clock before Jack Granahan drew a flag for unnecessary roughness. After the clock stopped, Trevor Tarring drew a flag for conduct, giving Kettle Run a three-man advantage for 30 seconds.

“Real big,” Scott Begley said. “But I kind of got this feeling that when we went up by two [goals] we were going to take a [relaxed] breath. And sure enough we did.”

So Pittman scored 18 seconds after Matt Begley. That, however, only allowed Kroll and Khalatbari to showcase their clutch defensive skills during the final 90 seconds.

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