For a three-minute span during Tuesday’s Class 4 state semifinal bout, E.C. Glass just couldn’t be stopped.
In what turned out to be a fateful third quarter, the reigning state champions rattled off five goals in quick succession, overwhelming Western Albemarle and earning an eventual 12-6 victory in Lynchburg’s midtown.
“When you have runs of five goals like that, it’s really hard for a team to come back from that,” Glass coach Eddie Ranuska said. His team held a 7-4 lead when it went on a scoring binge. “We were already up and then we had a five-goal roll. That’s good stuff.”
The Hilltoppers (17-2) advance to Saturday’s Class 4 state championship and play Riverside at 10 a.m. at Salem High School. Riverside, which defeated Dominion 11-4 in Tuesday’s other semifinal, also downed Glass in the 2017 state championship game.
The Hilltoppers will be making their third straight state title game appearance.
Glass has often broken away from the outset during playoff games. On Tuesday, it had to wait until after halftime. Western Albemarle (14-6) scored back-to-back goals in the first period to take a 2-1 lead, the only time it led all night. Glass answered with a 6-1 run to go up 7-3 at halftime, and then peppered the Warriors goal during the five-goal barrage in the third after WA had narrowed the score to 7-4.
“We started to get a lot of penalties,” Western Albemarle defender Jack Lesemann said. “I thought the officiating crew, I can’t really put it all on them, but it felt really one-sided against us. We just felt really unlucky with all the calls. We kind of fell apart on defense. I think they just kind of went on a run.”
It was the third straight year the Warriors have been bounced from the playoffs by Glass.
Glass was led by attack Owen Ahrens, who finished with a game-high four goals, and Wyatt Hamilton, who had two goals and three assists.
Austin Payne led WA with three goals, while Sam Stalfort added three assists.
Warriors goalie William Stalfort had 12 saves, while Glass’ Landon Collins saved four shots.
Ahrens scored three straight goals in the first quarter after telling himself prior to the game his team needed a strong start to find success against the Warriors.
“I think that started to get the team hype and started to get the wheels going,” Ahrens said. “As soon as I got the first goal, I was gonna keep shooting because I knew I was on tonight.”
Lesemann, as senior, said the two Glass runs — before halftime and in the third — made his team’s path forward difficult.
“We were hopeful, but it didn’t go our way,” he said of the postseason.
Like he has for much of his career, Glass midfielder Matthew Gallagher won faceoff after faceoff Tuesday, giving Glass either quick scoring chances or the opportunity to move the ball around and set up its offense.
“I didn’t want this to be my last game in a Glass uniform,” he said.
Hilltoppers senior attack Wyatt Hamilton expected a rough game. He was right. Play was stopped twice for athletic trainers to assist players who went down on the pitch; flags flew up over and over from referees’ hands; players were sent to the penalty box after illegal slashes or hits.
“A little bumped and bruised,” Hamilton said after the game, eye-black streaked across his face. “Those guys, just like every year, it’s a physical, tough game. We knew it would be coming in. So I packed a couple extra coolers of ice for when I get home.”
Ranuska was impressed most with his team’s defense. He called the semifinal game his team’s most complete effort yet.
“It actually started with our defense,” Ranuska said. “[Western Albemarle] did a great job. They had a great attack. I felt like we just didn’t give their attack any room to breathe. We were on their hands and were very physical with them.”
Ben Cates covers high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5527.