Aspen ties up playoff spot | AspenTimes.com

Aspen ties up playoff spot

Tim MutrieAspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen’s Phil Salazar hit the crossbar in the first half and Basalt’s Ryan Thompson drilled the post in overtime, but neither team found the back of the net after 80 minutes of regulation and 10 minutes of overtime Tuesday at the AHS field.Playing like a team with its back to the wall, Aspen, which lost at Basalt 4-1 on Sept. 17, controlled the pace with relentless defense, smart passing and opportunistic attacks that kept the favorite Longhorns off balance throughout.When the final whistle sounded, Aspen players celebrated the scoreless tie with hoots and hugs, having locked up the No. 3 spot from the league in the state playoffs with a 4-5-1 record in Class 3A Western Slope League play. Basalt, meanwhile, clinched its second straight league title last week, as well as a bye in the first round of the 24-team Class 3A state tournament, and finished at 8-1-1 in league play. While the tie does little to derail Basalt’s postseason prospects, it’s not how the Longhorns would have scripted their regular season finale.”Aspen played a good game ? they wanted the game,” said BHS coach Erik Streff. “They did a good job marking up. We weren’t able to use quick passing like we’re used to.”A well-played tactical war for possession and field position, the game featured several lesser battles, and few mistakes and fouls. On one wing, Aspen’s Reid Hansen and Basalt’s Felipe Sanchez clashed for dominance; on the other, it was Basalt’s Cy Eaton and Aspen’s Carlos Rojas. Aspen’s Nick Farrell and Brandon Cooper combined to neutralize Basalt’s scoring threats in Spencer Cleveland and Ryan Thompson in the middle, and both goalies ? Josh Lackey for Aspen and Jamie Wirkler for Basalt ? stepped up to turn away critical shots. “They battled so hard today,” said Grant “Junior” Sutherland, the Aspen coach with John Gillies. “Passion came out today and it carried ?em through.”Aspen created more scoring opportunities in the early going as Salazar and fellow striker Scott Wooley slashed through the Basalt back line on several occasions, but couldn’t convert.In the 37th minute, Aspen’s Rojas stole the ball on the wing and flicked it on to Salazar who was crashing toward the net and an oncoming Wirkler. Minutes earlier, it was Wirkler who won a 50-50 ball from Salazar, but this time Salazar got there first. He lofted a chip-shot over Wirkler that bounced off the top of the crossbar.In the second half, each team had numerous chances off corner kicks, and Basalt’s Eaton saved a dribbler from Salazar on an otherwise empty net. Aspen’s Lackey returned the favor in the 72nd minute, barely nudging a Cleveland direct kick over the crossbar from 25 yards out.In overtime, Thompson nearly ended it during a scramble in front of the net, but his close-range blast bounced off the far post ? and then across the front of the net ? before Aspen managed to clear it away. Lackey saved a Cleveland worm-burner to the near post in the second, five-minute overtime period, and then a potential “own goal” off a corner before it was through.”It was a team effort,” said Aspen’s Sutherland. “The guys did what they had to do. They deserved the result and they deserved to go to states.”Vail Mountain (8-2) will be the No. 2 seed from the league in the playoffs, behind No. 1 Basalt, while Eagle Valley (4-5-1) slipped in the fourth and final slot from the league for the playoffs, behind No. 3 Aspen.Basalt, which has a bye in the first round and a guaranteed seed in the top eight of the 24-team field, will play its first match early next week. Aspen’s first-round opponent in the playoffs will be determined today.