DENVER — It was, perhaps, one of the greatest nights high school field hockey has ever seen in the state of Colorado.
In front of a crowd of more than 1,000 fans — the largest to ever witness a championship game — top-seeded Cherry Creek and No. 3 Regis Jesuit put on a show. The game featured a last-second goal to send the game to overtime, and a winning penalty stroke.
Ultimately, Regis Jesuit won the state championship, the program's first, with a 2-1 victory over previously unbeaten Cherry Creek.
"It's incredible," said Regis Jesuit star Lauren Pendergast, who scored both goals for her team. "I mean we've worked so hard, and I know our coach is so proud of us right now, and he's so excited. It's just a surreal feeling."
The Raiders' Pendergast, a spark all postseason, scored the winning tally on a penalty stroke with just over two minutes remaining in the first overtime.
"Honestly, every time I've practiced going left," Pendergast said after the game. "So I was like, you know what? ... The goalies anticipate us going left, so I'm going to go right. And I just thought, I'm going to do it. I don't know why I did it, but it worked."
Pendergast buried the shot to the right, setting off a celebration on the Raiders' sideline.
"It's a process," said Regis Jesuit coach Spencer Wagner. "It's a lot of years. It's a lot of gratitude to the teams that came before. I think back to the times we made the semis, I think back to the players who experienced this kind of pressure before and learned from it and taught the underclassmen, who taught their underclassmen.
"I got messages from the very first captains that we had, and they were sending us good luck tonight," the coach continued. "It really goes all the way back to the beginning. Every single year, the girls have learned from the previous girls, and this is a testament to last year's team. We had a super strong team last year of 11 seniors, and they all graduated, but they left these underclassmen a lot of wisdom in how to play the sport well and they built on that this year."
Regis Jesuit had to regroup after Cherry Creek's Ella Pratt scored an amazing goal with one second left in regulation to the tie game and send it to overtime, the eighth time a title game had done to an extra frame.
With time winding down, Cherry Creek raced to get a last-second short corner attempt off. The Raiders nearly got the ball clear, but Pratt got hold of possession, and slammed home a goal from the edge of the circle.
But in the five-minute break before overtime, Regis Jesuit rallied.
Said Pendergast: "Our whole team was like, 'Let's not let this define us. We're not going to lose a championship in the last second, so we're going to come out here and take it to them. We're going to win.'"
"We said, 'OK, next play. What can we do about this?'" Wagner said.
Pendergast, who also scored Regis Jesuit's lone goal in a 1-0 win over Kent Denver in the semifinals, opened the scoring with her goal from about 15 yards out off a short corner with 21:43 to play in regulation.
"She has carried this team through the playoffs," Wagner said, noting that Pendergast scored in each game. "But it's a testament to the teamwork that she hasn't been our main scorer this whole season. It's only been when we've come down to needing specialty plays that she has been our specialty player, so we rely on her heavily when it's under pressure, and she rises to that challenge.
"She absolutely loves this game," Wagner said, "and she loves the challenge of facing good opponents, and she loves the challenge of facing good opponents, and she rises to that challenge like no one I've ever coached."
The Raiders had an aggressive attack throughout the game. They hit the post just before halftime, and had another close chance eight minutes into the second half.
After Pendergast's goal, Cherry Creek turned up the pressure. Regis Jesuit goalie Shay Zilvitis made a huge save with nine minutes to play to preserve the lead.
Ultimately that Cherry Creek pressure paid off in the form of Pratt's last-second goal. But Regis Jesuit, led by Pendergast, was able to respond.
It led to a memorable night in front of a massive crowd.
"Our whole school was telling me they were going to come out," Wagner said. "Everybody's been so supportive. ... It was great to see. The more people, I think the stronger the environment, the will to win, it really helps to push them through to the end. And they needed to be pushed. That last 10 minutes was grueling, but they did it."