Faith Christian too much for Longhorns | AspenTimes.com

Faith Christian too much for Longhorns

Nate Peterson

Faith Christian senior Tyler Hambrick (10) goes over Basalt senior Brett Boyle (3) during the second half of Saturdays 3A state soccer playoff game outside Denver. The Longhorns lost, 4-0. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

ARVADA – It wasn’t the season-ending 4-0 loss to Faith Christian Saturday that hurt most for the Basalt boys soccer team. No, what stung even more than a second straight defeat in the semifinal round of the 3A state playoffs was the loss of head coach Eric Streff. That, plus the loss of 11 seniors – many of whom were three- or four-year starters for the departing coach. Streff, who has coached the Longhorns for the past six seasons, said he plans to pursue a career as a golf pro. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work to do that, so I need to put my full effort into that,” Streff said. “I put a lot of time over the last six years with these guys. It’s kind of taken a little bit away from my personal life.” Despite the tough-to-stomach loss to the second-seeded Eagles – who also beat the Longhorns, 4-0, in Basalt’s season opener – Streff said he and his seniors left the field at the North Area Athletic Complex without any regrets Saturday.

There was the shared pride of winning four consecutive 3A Western Slope titles together. There was also something to take away from advancing to the state semis two years straight. If Faith Christian (16-2) beats Peak to Peak Charter School in Tuesday’s 3A state final, it will mark the third time that Basalt (15-3) has lost to the eventual state champion. “It’s hard to take, but it’s easier to know that you lost to a team that went on and won state,” Streff said. “We competed with them this game a lot better than we did last game. That’s definitely a strong team. If they’re not the best in 3A, they might be the best in the whole state. The Eagles didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard Saturday. In the second minute, junior forward Grant Cowles took a pass from teammate Noah Drake in the box and dribbled past two Basalt defenders for a one-on-one with Basalt goalie Jamie Wirkler. Cowle’s shot into the left side of the net just missed Wirker’s outstretched hands. In the 35th minute, Faith Christian senior forward Michael Lind dribbled through traffic before crossing up Wirkler with another shot to the left side of the net. Cowle added two more goals in the second half – the first in the 56th minute off a header assist from Luke McCaslin; the second in the 68th minute with a header off a cross.

Cowle said the first goal was the most important. “That’s what we were going for early in the game was just to get an early goal and come out with a lead,” the junior said. “We knew that’s who would win or lose the game – who came out stronger in the beginning.” Added Faith Christian coach Will Lind, “We knew coming in, if we could score early that we had the advantage. … Psychologically, in the their minds, we knew that they were thinking, ‘They’ve already beat us once.'” The most important factor in the Eagles’ victory was ball control. Aside from a handful of offensive runs, the Longhorns were mostly unable to sustain possessions to set up scoring opportunities against the stingy Eagles defense. Meanwhile, the Eagles front line played keep-away all afternoon while it patiently waited for seams to open up in front of the Basalt net. Longhorns’ goalie Jamie Wirkler, who was rarely tested this fall, had his biggest game of the season, finishing with more than 10 saves. “I don’t like the focus being on me,” Wirkler said after the game. “It was a team effort.”

Streff and Wirkler both said that the Longhorns didn’t have any huge mental lapses, nor was there any lack of effort. The Eagles were just a deeper team – a team that has proved twice this season over the course of an 80-minute game that it is four goals better than Basalt. “They’re the best team in the state,” Wirkler said. “Eric told us afterward that they’ve got six guys who are going to play Division I soccer. … I’d like to think that we’re the second-best team in the state.” “They also lost in overtime to the No. 1 team in 5A,” added senior Basalt senior Alex Giglio. “That just shows you how great of a team they are.” Before getting on the bus to make the long ride back to Basalt, Streff exchanged hugs and tears with all of his players, as well as his players’ parents. There were also a number of former Longhorns starters in attendance Saturday who came down to the field after the game to give their former coach a warm sendoff. “The last six years, it’s been an honor to coach this team,” Streff said, holding back tears. “It’s definitely hard to leave them. They stepped up every single year. People are going to be gunning after them and they have to be ready for games like this. They played their hearts out today and they played to their best ability. Sometimes you just come up short.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail is npeterson@aspentimes.com

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