The South Okanagan Flames made them work for it, but the Vernon Re/Max Tigers are through to the second round of the Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League playoffs.
The Cats outlasted the visiting Flames 9-8 in a controversial double-overtime thriller Wednesday night at Wesbild Centre, sweeping the best-of-three quarterfinal.
In the second, sudden-death OT (the first OT was 10 minutes, non-sudden death), South Okanagan’s Nick Kapusty was assessed an unsportsmanlike minor moments after the Flames erupted over what they felt was a non-call on a crease violation in Vernon’s zone. On the ensuing powerplay, Craig Bigsby dished a pass down low to Mitch Steel, who recorded the winner at 7:48.
“They were attacking us and trying to get back for defence, but we got it and I just passed one down to Mitch and he buried it. Going through two guys, I was kind of nervous throwing that one,” said Bigsby, who ended the night with two goals and an assist.
Bigsby credited the Flames for not rolling over.
“They wanted to win it to put it to three games so we had to come out here firing and they came out and did the exact same thing as us. It was pretty intense.”
Vernon will visit the league-leading Kelowna Raiders in Game 1 of the best-of-three semifinal Saturday at Memorial Arena. The Raiders had a first-round playoff bye.
In the other semi, the Armstrong Shamrocks, who also earned a first-round bye, host the Kamloops Venom for Game 1 Monday night (7:30) at Nor-Val Sports Centre.
Wednesday’s game was a seesaw affair, with the two teams exchanging the lead changing four times.
Trailing by a goal in the first period, the Tigers’ Riley Soleway equalized with the first of his five-goal performance on a terrific solo effort.
South Okanagan went ahead again, but Bigsby, on a nice feed from Nolan Frame, and Soleway, on the powerplay, made it 3-2 Vernon after the first period.
The Flames surged ahead again in the second period on goals by Tyler Berkholtz and Kapusty, only to have Soleway reply with two of his own, the second set up nicely by roadrunner Jay Seaton to give Vernon a 5-4 lead after 40 minutes.
Bigsby, on a strong second effort, extended Vernon’s lead in the third frame, but Berkholtz, intercepting a Tiger clearance attempt, and Derek Grimm fired singles to keep the visitors rolling.
Vernon captain Brett Hanna had the Tigers’ other third period marker, while Chris Pond forced OT by spinning around a double team to go in on netminder Tyler Landry.
Hanna had to be helped off the floor in the first OT after he took a hard check from Berkholtz at the side of the net.
Vernon tallied first in the extra frame on a 4-on-3 powerplay. Landry made a stellar breakaway save on Quinn Ramsay and the Tigers’ transitioned into a 2-on-1 break, capped by Soleway.
Just 28 seconds away from elimination, the Flames pushed it to sudden death on a Chris Johnson goal.
“We did not give South Okanagan a lot of respect, and they made us pay for that. Fifteen runners and they just about beat us,” said assistant coach Dave McWhirter, who credited Tigers young guns Seaton, Braden Barr and Darryl Landels for stepping up their game.
“My hat is off to South Okanagan, they could have packed it in and got ready for a summer holiday, and they gave it to us.
“Our guys could have packed it in too, and mentally they didn’t. They showed a lot of heart in a pressure game.
“But we’re at the point now where we’ve got to take advantage of our opportunities. We’ve got to be better against Kelowna; it’s the only way we’ll win.
For Flames’ head coach Tony Ramsay, it was a disappointing way to end the season.
“It’s frustrating to lose that way; to be put down a man and lose in overtime. That’s all I can say, nicely,” said Ramsay.
“We’re a young team, committed and they’re playing for keeps. It’s all you can ask. Put your best on the floor and let the chips fall where they fall.
“We lose a couple to age, but we have a young team so we should be strong next year with a few Midgets coming up.”