Saving grace for Skiers | AspenTimes.com

Saving grace for Skiers

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado

Skiers midfielder Wiley Maple and Coal Ridge's Max Peterson battle for possession Tuesday evening at Aspen High School. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN As Coal Ridge forward Darwin Cortez charged down the right sideline in the 77th minute Tuesday, Aspen goalkeeper Alex Owen had little choice but to attack.”It’s a judgment thing,” Owen said. “If they’re inside the 18 and by themselves, you’ve got to go as hard as you can and get the ball away.”I got a little finger on it. It slowed it down just enough.”Cortez fired a shot that slipped past Owen and seemed destined to find the open net. As the ball tracked the left corner, however, Aspen’s Robbie Franklin made the save of the match. The junior came from nowhere, slid and thwarted the potential equalizer mere inches from the goal line. Try telling the Skiers and Titans this game meant little.

Both 3A Western Slope state tournament bids are already taken – Vail Mountain School clinched with a tie at Roaring Fork earlier Tuesday, and Basalt secured its spot Saturday – but Aspen and Coal Ridge didn’t let up. The Skiers scored in the game’s first minute, then broke a 1-1 tie with a goal in the 62nd minute. On the strength of strong play from Owen – and a little help from Franklin – they pulled out the 2-1 victory. “I thought we would take it to them,” Aspen coach Dave Francis said. “We created plenty of chances. This season would’ve been totally different if we had an out-and-out striker who poached the middle of the box for goals.”The Skiers’ often-erratic offense connected early to give Aspen (7-5-1 overall, 6-3-1 3A Western Slope) the lead. Junior Jesus Meza found an opening in the middle of a packed box 50 seconds into the match and fired a shot past Titans keeper Skyler James. Coal Ridge was stunned momentarily.”Some players put their heads down, but it was just for a second,” Titans coach Brian Blair said. “Then they were right back up. They realized they had 79 minutes left to go. … We were on a three-game win streak, so we thought the breaks would go our way. There was good passing on both sides, and we had some good possessions.”

The Titans (4-8, 3-6), who are 2-6 in games decided by one goal or fewer, connected on the equalizer one minute before the half. Fernando Alvarado shook free and fired a shot past an outstretched Owen from 5 yards out. Both teams generated multiple scoring chances during a hotly contested second half; Aspen senior Wiley Maple yelled in frustration in the 50th minute after he hit his attempt from close range off the side of his foot and out of play.Jubilation replaced that frustration in the 62nd minute. Junior Kyle Lusk beat a defender down the right side, controlled a pass out wide and finished from a sharp angle. Fifteen minutes later, Franklin saved the Skiers.”Oh God, here we go again,” Francis remembered thinking as he saw the ball rolling toward the goal.

“I thought the way he slid he’d put it in the net instead of hook it out,” Blair said. “What a great play.”As a dejected Cortez jogged back toward midfield, the Skiers reveled in the moment. Three minutes later, They celebrated their second consecutive victory.”That absolute determination to win that Robbie showed was something we’ve been missing,” Francis said. “[Even though we were eliminated] they’re still representing themselves and their school. They have pride, and they still wanted to prove they’re a good team. They are.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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