Basalt in semis with title hopes |

Basalt in semis with title hopes

Basalt Highs Felipe Sanchez maneuvers for a shot on goal in a playoff game Tuesday against Alexander Dawson. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

It’s late fall, and while 3A soccer teams are falling like snowflakes in the cool Rocky Mountain air, four continue to cling to title hopes.Among them are the Basalt Longhorns, who have busied themselves in 2005 by compiling an impressive list of credentials. A fifth consecutive Western Slope title. An undefeated conference record. An 11-game winning streak, and counting.Basalt takes one more step toward an elusive state championship at 2 p.m. today against Faith Christian in the semifinals at Arvada’s North Area Athletic Complex. The Longhorns – with a roster that includes 11 seniors – have reached this threshold before but watched their dreams fade in a string of fleeting, painful moments. In 2004’s semifinals against Salida, Basalt relaxed on defense for two minutes, and it cost them, head coach Erik Streff said Tuesday: The Longhorns lost 1-0. In 2003’s quarterfinal round, the Spartans again stung Basalt, 1-0. In 2002 – this senior class’s first season in yellow and white – the Longhorns were on the short end of an agonizing 1-0 loss to Kent Denver.

The disappointments are mere afterthoughts now. Basalt is fortunate to have one more chance to make history, one more chance to hang a championship banner. It would be the first Longhorns squad to accomplish such a feat. The journey has been arduous. Against No. 14 Colorado Academy, the Longhorns needed two second-half goals to escape the first round. Senior forward Felipe Sanchez’s fifth-minute goal Tuesday was the deciding score in a hard-fought win over Alexander Dawson, a victory that incited as much relief as jubilation when the final whistle blew. While the term “champion” has a alluring ring to it, the Longhorns are not looking ahead. The matchups will not be easier from here on out. While it continues to contend with escalating pressures and lofty expectations, No. 3 Basalt next faces No. 2 Faith Christian. The Longhorns are hopeful their season won’t end like it started on Sept. 1, when the Eagles blanked Basalt, 4-0.”Faith Christian has a lot of good talent and a lot of players to pull from,” Streff said in an interview on the eve of the playoffs. “We’ve come a long way. We know where we need to be.”When the teams first played, the Eagles were fresh off a summer trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where they competed against teams of 17- to 22-year-olds. Basalt, meanwhile, had just two weeks of scrimmages to prepare, Streff said.

Both teams have amassed identical 15-2 records after two months of play. Each went 3-0 in regular-season games against common opponents Colorado Academy, Pagosa Springs and Middle Park. The Eagles, however, outscored those opponents 23-0, compared with Basalt’s 11-0.Faith Christian’s prolific offense has been on display in its two postseason games. In wins over Pagosa Springs and Colorado Springs Christian, the Eagles have 15 goals and have yet to allow a score. Basalt has just three goals in its two shutout victories.Offensive standouts Michael Lund and Grant Cowles combined to score four of Faith Christian’s five goals in a win Tuesday night over Colorado Springs Christian. Cowles’ header put the Eagles ahead in the 19th minute, and Lund recorded a hat trick in an 11-minute stretch in the second half. Lund leads the Eagles with 25 goals.The Eagles have outscored opponents 96-9 in 17 games , meaning Faith Christian’s defense has been stingy, as well. Goalkeeper Julio Hornedo is giving up one goal every 128 minutes.The Eagles – state champions in 2000, 2002 and 2003 – are armed with added motivation this postseason: They lost last year’s championship game to Salida.

“We need to focus on the game at hand and be mentally and physically ready to go,” Sanchez said Tuesday. “We know it’s going to be a hard game.” The 2005 bracket has played out with little surprise. Basalt and Faith Christian join No. 1 Kent Denver and No. 4 Peak to Peak in the semifinals. In eight opening-round matches, only two lower-seeded teams – No. 10 Colorado Springs Christian and No. 9 Fountain Valley – defeated a higher-ranked opponent.Basalt will have to lean on its unheralded defense – anchored by seniors Dennis Morgan and goalkeeper Jamie Wirkler – if they are to be the third lower seed to advance. The defensive unit has made small leads stand up this postseason, but connecting on more offensive opportunities will take on paramount importance in the later rounds, Morgan said Tuesday.The Longhorns had multiple scoring chances Tuesday, but balls continually rang off posts and sailed wide. It is a problem that has plagued Basalt all season and a problem that could be the Longhorns’ eventual downfall. “Our opportunities will come, and hopefully we will take care of enough of them to win,” Streff said.Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is

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