Basalt soccer drops Weld Central, advances to state quarters
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
BASALT – Familiar foe. Familiar outcome.
Senior Craig Riggins’ goal in the waning minutes of the first half in last fall’s 3A state soccer playoffs propelled then 12th-seeded Basalt past 5th-seeded Weld Central and into the quarterfinals. The two teams squared off in the second round once more Tuesday, with a similarly dramatic result.
Seniors Johny Diaz and Omar Lopez scored in the final 12 minutes of the first half, then sixth-seeded Basalt overcame some sluggish play and a late push from the No. 11 Rebels during a physical second half to secure a 2-0 win and a sixth trip to the state quarterfinals in as many seasons.
The Longhorns (13-3-1) will face the winner of No. 3 Denver Christian and No. 14 Lake County, who played later Wednesday, on Thursday afternoon.
“We never really got it going, but we were still able to attack a lot more than they were,” Basalt head coach John McDermott said. “They were good. They had a fast attack and didn’t give us the space we were used to getting. … When you get into [the round of] 16, it gets much harder.”
The Longhorns erupted for eight goals in Friday’s lopsided opening-round win over No. 27 Telluride. Tuesday, they had few chances during the opening 25 minutes against a visibly fatigued Weld Central side.
The Rebels (12-3-1) dispatched Alexander Dawson in first-round action Monday (the game was postponed five days because of inclement weather), then boarded a bus bound for Glenwood Springs little more than an hour later. They didn’t arrive until 1 a.m., head coach Vince Ruscitti said.
“We looked flat in the first half. … [The Colorado High School Activities Association] didn’t do us many favors, but there are no excuses,” he added. “We had our chances, but unfortunately they didn’t fall for us.”
Basalt managed to sneak two past a packed-in Weld Central defense in the latter stages of the first half. Lopez picked off a throw-in in the 27th minute and passed off to Diaz, who made a quick move and fired a strong left-footed shot from about 20 yards out that clipped the net.
“I took one [step] to the left, and Austin [Long] got in my way,” Diaz joked. “He screened me, and I told him ‘Get away.’
“After that, we kind of calmed down.”
Nothing blocked Jake Wirkler’s view when, after a Rebels player was whistled for a yellow card with less than two minutes remaining in the opening half, the midfielder lined up a free kick from about 30 yards out. The senior lofted a perfect cross into the box that appeared to be deflected multiple times before bouncing to Lopez, who tapped the ball in near the far post.
The goal drew the ire of Rebels coaches, who were convinced their goalkeeper had possession before a collision jarred the ball loose. They argued to no avail.
“That was big. That’s always a good time to get one, both right before the half or right after,” McDermott said.
The insurance goal proved crucial during a second half in which a desperate Weld Central side controlled play and came close to trimming the deficit.
In the 44th minute, one Rebels players drilled the crossbar on a free kick from about 15 yards out. Little more than eight minutes later, a Weld Central forward split two defenders on a run up the right side and had a clear look on goal – the entire Rebels bench rose in anticipation.
Longhorns goalkeeper Jeffer Flores was up to the challenge, however. He dove to his right and, with his body nearly perpendicular to the grass, knocked the ball out of harm’s way.
“I was just trying to stay on my toes and expect anything,” Flores said. “I didn’t think the defenders would get there in time, so I just went for it.”
Basalt leaned heavily on Flores during a tight second half in which the Longhorns appeared to be outplayed.
“They played real scrappy and tested us,” McDermott said. “They got us to play their style, and you can’t do that.”
“In the second half, we were the better team on the field,” Ruscitti added, “but luck plays a big difference. … Basalt is a good team, a talented team that spreads the ball and holds possession well. The way to take them is like we did in the second half, to put constant pressure on them.”
The Longhorns withstood that pressure to pull out their 11th straight win and hand the Rebels their third loss of the season – the others came to Colorado Springs Christian and Peak to Peak, the state tournament’s top two seeds.
“This is not getting any easier, so we have to keep our heads and concentrate on our game,” Flores said.
“If we play our game, we’ll have a good chance,” Diaz added. “We’ll be ready.”
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