Heartbreak for Basalt girls soccer

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

So close. But that’s of little consolation now.

After 80 minutes of regulation and two 15-minute overtimes could not decide Saturday’s second-round 3A state playoff game between No. 11 Basalt and No. 6 Manitou Springs, penalty kicks ultimately produced a winner.

With the game knotted at 3-3 after a best-of-five round, the Mustangs (13-2-2) snuck a ball past Longhorns keeper Jamie Matherly, then picked up a save to clinch a win and a berth in the quarterfinals.

“What can you do at that point,” Basalt head coach Makenzie Eshelman said Saturday afternoon. “We definitely made sure we played with no regrets. They came out and wanted it and fought hard. Manitou fought hard, too. … We feel good about the result, we just didn’t have the result we wanted.”

Opportunities were few and far between during a regulation and 30 minutes of overtime in which neither team could break a scoreless tie. During one opportunity when a Longhorns free kick was knocked out of the box, Alexa Aitken corralled the loose ball and fired a cross that just missed a teammate.

Melissa Stewart, the likely 3A Western Slope player of the year who scored 36 goals this season, was shadowed by multiple defenders all game. She managed to sneak free for a few shot attempts, but to no avail.

“Every time she got the ball, they yelled, ‘Double! Double!'” Eshelman said. “She knew it was coming, and we tried to work with her having her drop back. She broke through a couple times but we couldn’t find feet when we needed to.

“Manitou was a great team. They were very solid and very balanced.”

The win is Manitou Springs’ third in three seasons against Basalt (12-3-2). The two teams, two of the top public school programs in the state, squared off in the regular season each of the last two seasons. Both games were decided by one goal.

The Mustangs likely will face third-seeded Classical Academy in May 14’s quarterfinals.

“Penalty kicks is a hard way to end, but that’s soccer,” Eshelman said. “I thought we had a great season. We didn’t go where we wanted to, but this is a building block for next year.

“It was good for the girls to have a lot of competition within our league. It prepared them for this game and they were hungry. It just wasn’t our day.”

Aspen pulled off a major upset in Tuesday’s state tournament opening round. It could not follow suit Saturday, however, with a berth in the quarterfinals at stake.

The 24th-seeded Skiers missed prime scoring chances in both the first and second halves, surrendered two goals in the first 40 minutes and another down the stretch to No. 8 Colorado Academy (11-5-1) in a 3-0 loss.

“The best team won,” Aspen head coach John Gillies said. “We didn’t pressure them [on offense], but we defended everything well. We kept them out and frustrated them. I think they were shocked to be up 1-0 two minutes before the [end of the] first half. When they managed to sneak another one in, you could see the relief on their faces.

“We’re happy. Obviously, we had our chances.”

Lizzy Eastley had a one-on-one chance against the Mustangs’ goalkeeper in the first half but couldn’t find the net. In the second, Olivia Davis fired a strong header on net, but a Colorado Academy defender managed to deflect the ball, which wound up bouncing off the crossbar and out of harm’s way.

Aspen (10-5-2), which Tuesday knocked off ninth-seeded Middle Park, could not keep pace against a Mustangs team that has won seven of their last eight games.

“They were a great team and actually passed the ball well. … They deserved three [goals],” Gillies said. “If that is number eight, God knows what [St. Mary’s] would be like in the next round. It probably worked out better that we’re not going down on Thursday.”

St. Mary’s (13-1), the tournament’s top overall seed, was slated to play No. 17 Evangical Christian on Saturday night. The winner will face Colorado Academy on Thursday.