Soccer: Basalt, Telluride to clash in state opener | AspenTimes.com

Soccer: Basalt, Telluride to clash in state opener

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Jim Ryan/Special to The Aspen TimesBasalt's Willy Salamanca fires a shot past Rifle goalkeeper Keith McCutchen earlier this season.

BASALT – So much for home-field advantage.

The Basalt soccer team secured first-round playoff home games in each of the last two seasons, only to have those matches moved to Aspen and Gypsum because of inclement weather. Rain, snow and frigid temperatures are in the midvalley forecast Thursday, when the sixth-seeded Longhorns are slated to open the 3A state tournament against No. 27 Telluride at 3:30 p.m.

If the field is deemed unplayable, the game will be postponed until 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Basalt athletic director Ralph Smalley said. If the field is not ready by Thursday, the two teams will square off in Aspen, much like they did in 2009’s state opener, which the Longhorns won, 8-1.

“We want to play at home and have that home-field advantage,” Smalley said. “That’s the reason the kids work so hard to get the highest seed possible.”

When it finally does play, Basalt (12-1-1), the two-time defending Region 3 champions, will be contending with much more than the conditions. It will battle a Miners squad that likely is seething after an unfavorable revision to the tournament brackets.

When the 32-team field initially was unveiled Sunday, Telluride was seeded 16th and was slated to host Coal Ridge. The bracket subsequently was pulled back “due to inaccuracies in the polling information provided to the soccer seeding committee,” according to a Colorado High School Activities Association news release.

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The amended version was released Monday, revealing the Miners’ new position – a tough break for a squad that finished second to Alamosa in 3A Region 5 with an overall record of 10-3-2.

“If I were that coach, I would be livid,” Longhorns head coach Brent Hayes said. “Getting pushed back to 27th is just ridiculous. I feel for them.

“I feel like we’re playing a second-round game in the first round. … They were sandwiched between Roaring Fork and Coal Ridge [in the first bracket], so I expect them to be the same sort of team. And they’re going to be angry having to get on a bus and come all the way here. It makes me a bit nervous.”

Telluride closed out the regular season with an 8-1-1 record in its final 10 games, matching Basalt’s mark during that span. The Miners boast an offense that is averaging more than four goals a game. They have scored six or more goals six times, including a 9-0 rout of Grand Junction in Oct. 20’s season finale.

They likely will be tested against a Longhorns defense that has allowed just nine goals in 14 games. While the unit is a strength, Hayes said his one major concern is limiting Telluride’s corner-kick and set-piece opportunities.

“Since the start of the year, that has been our one big problem – giving away silly penalties in a dangerous area and not being able to play those well,” the coach said. “We’ve been letting people capitalize on those chances. … At this point, that certainly levels the playing field.

“Anybody near the top of the bracket is a good enough team to go all the way. Last year was one lapse, not stepping to one player who hit a long shot. We need to focus on the little things, mental attitude and never giving up on a single play.”

One goal proved to be the difference in Basalt’s second-round loss to eventual state champion St. Mary’s last fall. The Longhorns, who suffered their only loss of the year to Battle Mountain, the 10th seed in the 4A state tournament, has not advanced past the quarterfinals since 2005, when it was a semifinalist. (The tournament only had 16 teams until 2008.)

“We were equal to [St. Mary’s]. We learned a lot from that,” Hayes said. “I feel as good about this team as last year’s. … If we take care of business, we’ll be alright.”

If they are to advance – and host the winner of No. 11 Estes Park and No. 22 Lutheran on Saturday – The Longhorns likely will need offensive contributions from cousins Bertilio Garcia and Willy Salamanca, who have combined for 25 goals this season.

Favorable weather would not hurt, either.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com