Mountain Ridge builds for playoffs with win over Chandler

Mountain Ridge defender Jesse Marden, of Liberty High School in Peoria, chases after a loose ball against Chandler’s Tanner Donaldson.

After a 20-day lapse in games, Mountain Ridge lacrosse faced a challenge when it went up against a winless Chandler.

Chandler’s Pumas were looking for their first win March 27 at Cactus High School, while the Mountain Lions continued to build for a return to the playoffs.

“I wasn’t sure how my team was going to come out tonight after such a long game layoff,” Mountain Ridge head coach Derek Bahler said. “We started slow, but they kept fighting, and (Chandler) is a lot tougher than their record shows. We are trying to get back to the playoffs and this was a game that tested us.”

After jumping out to a four-goal first-half lead, the Mountain Lions’ defense battled a scrappy Puma offense for 48 minutes. The Mountain Lions held on for a 12-10 victory.

Chandler (0-5) head coach Tyce Thielsen, whose team has struggled with injuries, knows his team is getting close to its first win.

“I thought we had this one after battling back,” Thielsen said. “We had even more injuries, but these kids kept battling and got within a goal late. We just couldn’t get that first win.”

The Mountain Lions were led by Brady Wijbrandts, who scored five goals; and Nathan Nash, Liam Reid and Kaleb West, all who scored two apiece. Cole Houser stopped some huge shots late to secure the victory.

Mountain Ridge (4-1) lead 8-4 with just over four minutes left in the second quarter, when the Mountain Lions’ Anthony Andolino cross-checked Chandler’s Tanner Donaldson at mid-field and Liam Reid was called for giving the Pumas a two-man, 3-minute advantage.

The Mountain Lions’ defense pressured the Pumas’ offense, holding Chandler to one shot during the two-man advantage, and controlled the ball on offense to kill the penalty.

“That was huge. We only got one shot. You have to take advantage of penalties and we didn’t,” Thielsen said. “(Mountain Ridge’s) penalty kill was really good tonight, and we just couldn’t take advantage of it when we got the advantage.”

Mountain Ridge killed four of Chandler’s six-man advantages, controlling the ball during a penalty killing on defense.

“Yeah, the guys were strong on the penalty kill tonight,” Bahler said. “Our defense really came through when we needed it, and that was encouraging.”

Trailing at halftime, Chandler’s Donaldson opened the third quarter when he took a pass behind the net and cut around the outside, lobbing a pass in front to Alex Le.

Le grabbed the ball and fired a shot that was saved by Houser, but the ball bounced off the right crossbar and rolled into the net.

The two teams battled back and forth for the next 6 minutes, before Nash stole a pass at midfield, raced down the middle of the field, and fired a shot from 15 yards out that got past Chandler goaltender Evan Doble.

One minute later, Liam Reid took a pass in front of the net from Donaldson, where Reid spun around two defenders and scored.

Chandler got within four at the end of the third when, with 6 seconds left in the quarter, Kyle Pointer intercepted a Mountain Ridge pass at midfield and raced down the middle and scored from 20 yards out.

After the two teams traded goals in the first minute of the fourth quarter, Chandler attempted its comeback.

With just over 8 minutes left in the game, Donaldson took a pass in front from Nicholas Sparks and bounced the ball past Houser.

Chandler’s Tyler Allison scored 1:16 seconds later, shorthanded after Nash was called for a cross-check, when he took a midfield pass from Le and scored.

The Pumas got within one goal with 6:09 left in the game when Le, battling behind the Mountain Ridge goal, cut around the left side and passed to Donaldson, who fired it past Houser.

“I was sweating a little when they got within a goal,” Bahler said. “But I just called the time out and calmed them down a little, and they responded.”

With 4 minutes left in the game, Mountain Ridge switched into a ball control offense, keeping the ball away from the Pumas for nearly 3 minutes.

With just over two minutes left in the game, Wijbrandts secured the win by taking the ball behind the Puma goal, cutting around and firing a shot into the back of the net.

The Mountain Lions’ Reid, with 2:21 left in the game, picked up the loose ball after the face off, and Wijbrants passed the ball back and forth to Nash and West to control the clock to end the game.

“This was a huge win for us, and one we needed,” Bahler said. “We have some big games coming up and, while we have work to do, this was a big showing for this team.”

Already struggling with injuries, Chandler suffered another when Brody Kofahl was slashed across the helmet at one point.

Kofahl, who is a face-off leader and midfielder, was held out the rest of the game with concussion-like symptoms.

“Yeah, we just keep getting more injuries, and that one hurt us late,” Thielsen said.

“We could have used (Kofahl) when we got within one goal, but no excuses. We are so close, and I think this team will break through soon.”