MADISON – The Bay Port hockey team made its first WIAA state tournament appearance on Thursday at the Alliant Energy Center.
The upstart Pirates made a strong first impression before it left.
Bay Port pushed Sun Prairie to the limit before succumbing to a power-play goal with 14.1 seconds remaining that ended its magical postseason run during a 3-2 loss in a state quarterfinal game.
It was the Pirates’ sixth loss of the season that was decided by one goal.
“We were right there all year,” Bay Port coach Mike Buchan said.
“I’m very proud of these guys. … They deserve to be here. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the game. They deserved a game. But they set a precedent. This group set a precedent for everyone coming through. I’m very proud of them.”
Four of the five goals in Thursday’s game came with the man advantage, including both of the Pirates’ tallies.
The Cardinals (18-8-1) capitalized on what was the only penalty of the third period when senior Josh McCrary buried a rebound with traffic in front of the net for the deciding goal of the game, which saw Bay Port hold a 39-32 advantage in shots on goal.
The power-play opportunity came after Bay Port sophomore Spencer Kring was called for kneeing with 2 minutes remaining in the contest.
“I felt they put their whistle away,” Buchan said. “I think that we forced them to take penalties that weren’t called, so it was very disappointing to have the season end and the decision made by the referee. It probably was a penalty. It was the right call. I just look to 3 to 5 minutes sooner, it could have gone the other way.”
What ended up being a game that went down to the wire could have easily gone in the wrong direction for the Pirates (19-10) when Sun Prairie took a 2-0 lead in the opening minute of the second period on an even-strength goal by senior Alex Kurtz.
Instead, Bay Port responded with pressure and an onslaught of shots on goal. It had an 18-7 advantage for shots on goal in the second period.
Senior Bennett DeBouche got things started with a couple of breakaway opportunities that just missed.
“They seemed a little timid when we came at them and they were turning it over,” Bay Port senior captain Spencer Challe said. “Once we found out they were timid, we knew we could outplay them after that.”
Senior defenseman Joe Cavil crashed the net to chip in a rebound with 7 minutes, 52 seconds left in the second period on a 4-on-3 power-play opportunity.
Junior forward Max Moore then flipped in a cross-feed pass from senior Austin Mikesch 43 seconds later to the tie the game 2-2.
“To pop two like that was great,” Buchan said. “It got us some energy. It got us back in the game and gave us some energy. It could have went either way.”
Sophomore Riley Baye finished with 29 saves for Bay Port, which beat the top three seeds in its sectional to advance to state for the first time.
In addition to Mikesch, Challe had an assist, while senior Matej Huncik made two.
“It’s an experience I’ll never forget,” Challe said.
“We played our hearts out. … We went places this year. We made history for our school. It’s been my favorite season yet, and I’m glad it ended this way.”
Bay Port had nine seniors on its team this year. They included Challe, Mikesch, Huncik, Cavil, DeBouche, Mike Messerschmidt, Will Kendall, Alex Piotrowski and Ben Mabry.
“I told them I was going to miss them,” Buchan said. “A lot of those kids played for us for three or four years, and the others came through our JV program and built our success there. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tough to see those guys go. They’re a great group of kids.”
– firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @andrewpekarek.