LAKEWOOD – Ask any coach or athlete and they’ll tell you a week long layoff can be the kiss of death when the playoffs roll around.
So with a two week layoff, one could well understand coach Mike Ackerman’s concern. When the Bear Creek Bears came out sluggish in their first-round state playoff game against the Coronado Cougars, Ackerman’s concern turned to real angst.
When Coronado’s Nathan Rubio, the team’s captain, scored with 8:05 left in the half, one might have thought Ackerman was on the verge of a massive coronary.
“We were pretty rusty in the first half, that’s for sure,” Ackerman said. “We didn’t come out with much intensity. We were sluggish, rusty with our touches. We weren’t controlling the ball like normal.”
One reason for the Bears sluggishness can be blamed on the weather. The Bears were originally supposed to play last week, but snow in the Denver area, and lack of a field due to other sports scheduling, left the Bears with a Monday, 3 p.m. start time at Trailblazer Stadium.
“After that first half, we came in at halftime and had a moment in the locker room like, ‘Hey, this is our season, we don’t want to put so much time and energy into the season and have it go to waste.’ It kind of clicked with the team in general.”
Ackerman’s halftime chat created a sense of urgency. “Individuals stepped up,” he said. “We kept the ball in the offensive side of the field, created a lot more opportunities to get goals. We limited their chances in the second half.”
The halftime chewing, er, chat, paid off. With just 47 seconds gone in the second half, senior forward Salman Bahurmoz made a fantastic play to get a goal. “It was a really nice goal off a volley and Salman hit it coming across his body,” Ackerman said. “Having a great goal like that one minute into the second half gave us more energy and helped us create other opportunities.”
Ackerman had hoped the Bears, now 15-1, could get a goal before halftime. The chances were there, Ackerman said, but the Bears just couldn’t convert. “We had a couple of opportunities to put it in and you could tell by guy’s body language in the locker room they were down a bit.”
At 15:14 senior forward Grant Keith scored to put the Bears up, 2-1. That would be all the scoring the Bears would need or would get.
Now, the tournament’s ninth seed gets to play the tournament’s eight seed, Rocky Mountain on the road in Fort Collins. Ackerman said Rocky Mountain plays in one of the better leagues in the state. “So we know they have a good team,” he said. “Other than that, we don’t know much about them.”
But even with the lack of knowledge, Ackerman has confidence in his troops.
“I definitely think we have a lot more confidence after today,” he said. “Last year we were the 20 seed in the playoffs and upset a No. 13 and No. 4 seed to go to the semis.”
The Bears will also be looking to their upperclassmen for leadership.
“Our guys from last year know we can go on the road and win,” Ackerman said. “Last year helps give us the confidence going on the road today.”