Aspen boys soccer beats Grand Valley to likely secure a 3A playoff spot
The Aspen High School boys soccer team wasn’t waiting around to see if it made the postseason or not. As far as it was concerned, Saturday’s regular-season finale at home against Grand Valley was a playoff game.
The math told a fairly straightforward story — win, or the season was over.
“Going to the playoffs with this game is just a huge confidence booster and I think this is what all of the seniors, including myself, asked for,” senior goalie Jake Bassi said. “We were a little shaky with our confidence coming in. We weren’t sure if we could do it. A couple of the boys were pretty nervous, but we pulled through.”
With a defense not needing Bassi to do much and an offense putting itself into scoring position all afternoon, the Skiers had little issue getting a 2-0 senior day win over the Cardinals on Saturday.
“We pretty much saw today as a playoff game,” senior Tyler Clayton said. “It’s kind of emotional to think this is the last game I get to play on this turf. We’ve had some good times, we’ve had some bad times, but I’m glad we get to end strong.”
Aspen scored only 10 minutes into the game when Clayton found Xavier Barragan alone in front of the net for a tap-in goal. Despite numerous chances to add to the scoring, AHS had to settle for the 1-0 halftime lead.
This lead, however, was far from comforting. On Thursday at Basalt, Aspen led 2-0 in a game they couldn’t afford to lose and eventually settled for a 3-3 draw. This was very much on the players’ minds heading into the second half of Saturday’s game.
“We can have that tendency to sort of disappear into our shell a little bit,” AHS coach Dave Francis said. “But they kept their heads this time. We didn’t give anything silly away. They kept control of the game and saw the game out.”
The Skiers found some breathing room when Alex Gordon scored via a penalty kick in the 57th minute. From there it was about not making mistakes like they did against the Longhorns.
“We are looking to the playoffs now and just glad we finished strong,” senior Nick Tran said. “We had a plan and we have an amazing coaching staff. They knew what we had to do to win and we executed today.”
In all likelihood, the game was the final of the season for Grand Valley, which finishes 4-10-1 overall. Aspen, now 7-5-3 overall, will await its true postseason fate and feels good about where it stands.
The top 32 teams in Class 3A based off RPI (rating percentage index) make the state tournament. As of 6 p.m. Saturday evening, Aspen was No. 31. The bracket is expected out as soon as Sunday. Should the numbers hold, AHS will likely make the field and play its first-round game against one of the tournament’s top seeds next week.
“I felt that a win would guarantee us, maybe even move us up a spot or two,” Francis said. “So we should be good, but you never quite know. We should be in states and we’ll get an opportunity to go and play one of the big boys in Denver.”
Basalt, which finished the season 5-9-1 overall, was No. 43 in RPI Saturday evening and is almost certain to miss the postseason. At 14-0-1, Jefferson Academy was No. 1 followed by three-time defending state champion Kent Denver (13-1-1) at No. 2.
“We are definitely capable,” Bassi said. “In general we do pretty well against the higher-ranked teams. We just have a tendency to collapse against teams that are lower ranked that we underestimate. So I know we can do good in the playoffs.”
Aspen last made the playoffs in 2015 as the No. 32 seed, losing 2-0 to top seed and eventual state champ Kent Denver.
UPDATE: Aspen was not among those selected for the 3A state tournament when the bracket was released Sunday. More on that here.
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Buttermilk Ski Area already is scheduled to host the world’s best at ESPN’s X Games this coming week, while it was recently announced Aspen Highlands will host alpine skiing’s NorAm finals later this spring.