DENVER - The Palmer Ridge Bears (13-3) looked like the better team. Rachael Braaten and Mary Koch were unstoppable on the offensive end, the defense was holding its own and there was nothing Denver East (14-2) could do about it.
Then there was the second half. East's offense woke up, penalties put the Bears at a two-man disadvantage for the last 13 minutes of the game and the momentum seemed to never leave the Angels' side in the final 25 minutes as a stunned Palmer Ridge fell 15-9 in the second round of the girls' lacrosse state playoffs.
Afterward, Bears coach Don Bryant failed to go into detail about the officiating, which forced the Bears to play short-handed those last 13 minutes.
"I thought the officiating was fair in the first half," Bryant said.
When asked about his understanding of the pile of penalties handed out in the second half, the second-year coach shrugged.
"I have no idea what all the calls were about. They didn't communicate it to me," he said. "You'll have to ask them about that."
The 10th-seeded Bears led 7-5 at half thanks to three goals apiece from Braaten and Koch, but the No. 7 Angels regrouped in the final frame as junior Sarah Nick had three goals in the first eight minutes to sway the momentum.
Julia Dudley added four of her seven goals in the final 10 minutes for East, turning a tight game into a runaway.
"Palmer Ridge is a really good team and we knew they'd be tough and physical," Angels coach Mallory Cleveland said. "Thankfully, we finally brought our energy in the second half."
The loss ended the high school careers of six Palmer Ridge seniors.
Braaten, the senior captain, however, said the loss doesn't define what the Bears accomplished this season.
"We made huge strides this year and made a lot of people recognize who we are," said Braaten, who will join the rodeo as a barrel racer while she attends West Texas A&M in a few months. "I'm so blessed I could play with these girls and coaches."
Braaten tied the game at 1 with a wrist shot in front of the net at 18:46 and gave Palmer Ridge a 5-3 lead at 6:02 on a 10-yard flip. Her third goal of the game came after she ran 60 yards down the field, untouched, and capped it off with an effortless shot over the goalie's right shoulder to give the Bears a 6-4 lead at 5:29.
Koch added her third goal of the game at the 2:56 mark of the first half, and Palmer Ridge stuffed East's offense on three consecutive possessions to take a two-goal lead into halftime.
"Too bad we couldn't do that for just a little longer," Braaten said.