By STUART GROSKREUTZ
FRIDLEY – In a game that was close throughout, Totino-Grace scored twice in the fourth quarter to slip past Stillwater 5-3 in Thursday’s Section 4 quarterfinal boys’ lacrosse game.
The fifth-seeded Ponies (10-5) scored 17 goals in each of their previous four games, but struggled to find the net against Totino-Grace, which advances to face White Bear Lake in the semifinals on Tuesday. White Bear Lake, the defending section champion, defeated Mounds View 6-3 in another quarterfinal game on Thursday.
Mahtomedi and Blaine, the second and third seeds, will meet in the other semifinal.
"We didn’t reach our ultimate goal, but I would still say we had a successful season," Ponies coach Travis Sanders said. "We know that we’re right there and hopefully that makes these guys coming back hungry. We’re right on the edge of making a breakthrough year, but when it comes down to crunch time we need to make it happen."
A barrage of penalties proved costly for the Ponies, who didn’t allow any goals while short-handed but spent the bulk of that time defending rather than trying to press on the other end of the field.
"We were tied 3-3 and we had some momentum going and were really thinking this was our game to win, but unfortunately we spent too much time in the penalty box in the fourth," Sanders said. "I don’t think they scored a goal man-down, but we must have had close to 10 minutes in penalties and that ultimately is what hurt us, even though our defense played amazing."
Sam Mathieu – who ended his career as the program’s all-time leading scorer – finished with two goals to lead the Ponies while Nolan Rinta notched a goal in the second quarter to help them pull even at 2-all. The Ponies have benefited from balanced scoring all season, but struggled to click offensively through much of the game. One exception was Mathieu’s first goal in the second, which started with a save by Jeff Burridge and quick outlet to Dylan Harris and connections with Jeff Petersen to Charlie Register and eventually to Mathieu for the finish on the backside.
"You move the ball and find the open guy and that’s where we make our money," Sanders said. "When we’re playing well that’s what we do is move the ball and find the open guy. Early in the season the majority of our scoring was coming from the attack and when we’re playing really well we’re seeing scoring from our middies and attack. (Against the Eagles) we weren’t making it happen from the midfield position and all three goals were from attack.
Burridge finished with 11 saves in goal for the Ponies in what was another strong performance just one game after setting the team record with his 10th win of the season.
"Burridge had probably his best game of the season," Sanders said. "To be a man down as much as we were, we really held them down, but we just didn’t get as many looks on offense."
In a tight game, every possession is critical.
"We had a couple problems clearing the ball and a couple problems maintaining possession on offense," Sanders said. "A couple of mistakes here and there just get magnified when the playoffs come around. Totino-Grace is a well coached team, not a real flashy team, but they just have a bunch of guys that are all good and they know what they’re doing. They were patient and we forced a few things."
Goals – St, Sam Mathieu 2 and Nolan Rinta.
Assists – St, Charlie Register.
Saves – St, Jeff Burridge 11.
Tuesday’s first round
Mounds View 6, Centennial 5
Totino-Grace 12, Forest Lake 3
Stillwater 17, Coon Rapids 3
Blaine 18, Spring Lake Park 0
Andover 16, Irondale 9
Hill-Murray 7, Anoka 6
White Bear Lake 6, Mounds View 3
Totino-Grace 5, Stillwater 3
Blaine 18, Andover 4
Mahtomedi 12, Hill-Murray 5
#4 Totino-Grace at #1 White Bear Lake
#3 Blaine at #2 Mahtomedi
The section finals are scheduled for Irondale on Thursday, May 31, 7 p.m.