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Faith ends Aspen’s soccer season

Todd Hartley

ENGLEWOOD – The Aspen High School boys soccer team had its 1999 season, the most successful in school history, come to a disappointing end Friday night in Englewood in the semifinals of the state 3A playoffs.

Despite playing one of their best games of the year, the Skiers were unable to break through a tough Faith Christian defense and lost 2-0 to the Eagles on two questionable goals by star forward Chris Palik.

“The guys played brilliant,” said Aspen coach Grant “Junior” Sutherland.

“I’m so proud of them. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.

“To get to the final four, you have to have luck on your side. We just didn’t have it Friday night.”

The loss was especially emotional for Sutherland and eight seniors he has coached for the last eight years, all of whom played their final match together.

For Aspen, it was the third straight year that an outstanding season has come to a close in the state semifinals. But this game was the team’s best showing yet.

“It was a great game,” said Aspen coach Jon Gillies. “You could see how we were pressuring them. That second goal just wiped us out.”

Palik, whose 38 goals and 20 assists this season are tops in the state, notched his second goal of the game with just 8:58 to play and dashed any hopes of a late rally by the Skiers.

The game started off with some good opportunities for both teams. Aspen fowards Chris Erickson and Carter Hansen each had some open looks at the net but were unable to find the mark, and goalie Tony Prikryl was strong in net for the Skiers, stopping three early chances by the Eagles’ Sam Leger.

Gradually, Aspen began to win the battle of field position, keeping the ball deep in Faith Christian’s end of the field for much of the first half.

But with under 11 minutes to go in the half, Palik got free with the ball behind the Aspen defense. Prikryl came out of the net to make a play and got a hand on the ball, but Palik was able to sneak a low shot past him for a 1-0 Eagles lead.

The second half played out in much the same way for the Skiers, with the defense, keyed by Michael Stege, Duncan Delano and Michael Friedland, limiting the Eagles’ chances and striker Brendan Wynn narrowly missing with a couple good shots.

With 25 minutes left in the game, a shot by Erickson bounced over the head of Faith Christian goalie Ryan Crafton, but the ball hit the post and caromed away. Eleven minutes later, Wynn found a small opening in traffic, but his shot, too, went off the post.

Aspen midfielder Cory Robinson, who was outstanding in his final game for AHS, had a number of good chances turned away as the time slipped under 10 minutes left, but it was Faith Christian that would finally make good on an opportunity.

With nine minutes to play in the game, Leger, who appeared to be offside, picked up a loose ball behind the Aspen defense. He dribbled into position for a point-blank shot, but Prikryl made a great save. The ball bounced away toward the right side of the net, leaving Delano and Palik to race for it. Delano got there first, but as he slid to try to kick the ball away, he inadvertently redirected it into the net for an own-goal which was credited to Palik.

Down 2-0, the Skiers fought right back. Just seconds after Palik’s goal, Erickson set up Robinson for a good run, but the ball was kicked away at the last second.

Wynn was ejected from the game with 4:23 to play after receiving his second yellow card, but Aspen still kept the pressure on. Bridger Smith fired a shot that went just wide, and Crafton made a nice save on a shot by Hansen. As time ran down, Jeff Brence got off a couple good shots, but the Eagles’ defense held and the clock ran out on Aspen’s season.

With the season over, Aspen says good-bye to seniors Prikryl, Robinson, Stege, Friedland, Wynn, Erickson, Smith, Brandon Blair, Danny Brown and Eric Meyer, a group that has made three trips to the final four in its years on the team.

Faith Christian moves on to the state finals Tuesday night against Colorado Academy, a 3-0 winner over Kent Denver on Friday.


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