DENVER – When Mountain Vista High School boys lacrosse coach Matthew Plitnick peered through the mob, looking where to hand the newly won Class 5A boys lacrosse championship trophy, he had eyes only for senior goalie Brant Ward.

Prospects were grim early for the No. 5 Golden Eagles, down 4-1 to No. 2 Valor Christian after one quarter. Having already played spoiler to top-seeded Cherry Creek, Vista was losing ground balls, struggling to clear and surrendering goals near the crease. After some changes in matchups, it was Ward who anchored the Golden Eagles’ defense, not only stopping most of the shots that came his way, but also steadying a defensive unit with no seniors and no returning starters from last season.

As the tides turned on offense, it was Ward and the defense that carried Mountain Vista to a 10-8 victory at the University of Denver’s Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, the program’s second all-time.

“Brant, the first half of the year he was OK,” Plitnick said. “The second half of the year, he took off. He was calm down there. He was a calming influence on that defense.”

The first quarter was all Valor, with Blake Ham kicking off proceedings with an electric goal. Running up from behind the left side of the net, he left his feet near the cage as defenders crash into him. Falling backwards, Ham was able to flick in the first goal of the game.

Vista responded shortly thereafter with a long shot from Riley Jenkins, but James Hamilton fired back with a range finder from at least 20 feet away to put the Eagles back on top. Long stick midfielder Luke Alread got in on the action with a running start near the midfield, putting away a deep, bouncing shot to stretch the advantage. Rush LaSelle made it 4-1 to close out the quarter with Valor in front.

In the second quarter, Mountain Vista cut into the lead with a goal from Dawson Long. The Eagles got one back on the ensuing possession, where bodies collided near the crease and Christian Eframo scooped up the loose ball for an easy goal to make it 5-2.

From there, Vista started to control proceedings. Ethan Pearson and Joel Palasz each netted goals three minutes apart to bring the Golden Eagles within one at the break. It was here that Ward said he felt the momentum shift.

“After that turnover down there we got a fastbreak goal and it was 5-4,” Ward said, motioning to one end of the field. “We were really feeling ourselves after that. You could tell that we had them on the ropes. When we got two more (goals), I knew we had it.”

The Golden Eagles drew even after halftime on a non-releasable penalty left over from the second quarter, with Jenkins finding Palasz for a goal whipped in from the right side. Vista added one more on the powerplay for good measure as Long assisted on Pearson’s second goal of the night. The goal secured a lead and once the teams returned to even strength, the Golden Eagles pushed it further.

Brady Brown powered his way to the crease, slamming between two defenders before dropping in a goal. Palasz completed his hat trick with 57.9 left in the third, then added another for good measure early in the fourth to make it 9-5.

Valor went up a man after a slash in the fourth quarter and couldn’t convert on the advantage, but scored shortly after it expired. Palasz responded with his fifth goal of the night and Valor added two goals in the final four minutes to make the final tally closer.

The two squads met once in the regular season, with Valor winning 10-4, and Palasz after the game said he had revenge on the mind.

Ward, however, was focused on the defense.

“For them to hold it down, only eight goals after they had four so quickly in the first quarter, that’s amazing,” he said. “So proud of my boys.”