‘Horns escape with win in league opener with Paonia
Basalt’s frustrations were mounting. Midway through the second half of Wednesday’s home opener, midfielder Michael Eaton drew a yellow a yellow card for grabbing a Paonia player’s jersey. Moments later, an errant Longhorns pass prompted Eaton to slam his water bottle to the ground on the sideline.”We know we’re better than that,” the senior said. “We were very lucky to win this one.”The Longhorns outscored the Eagles 18-1 in two routs last season. Wednesday, they needed a goal in the 58th minute from Austin Long to escape with a 2-1 victory in their 3A Western Slope opener.
“That’s not the Paonia we’re used to playing,” Basalt coach John McDermott said. “Maybe they have a bunch of exchange students or something.”The Eagles, who topped 4A Montezuma-Cortez – a team that beat Aspen – at last weekend’s Montrose tournament, gave the Longhorns faithful reason for concern. They controlled play for much of the first half and narrowly missed on multiple scoring chances.Basalt broke through in the 23rd minute. A Paonia defender was whistled for impeding a Longhorns forward on a shot into the box. Eaton lined up the penalty kick and fired the ball past goalkeeper Brian Hernandez into the bottom left corner. The Longhorns (1-2 overall, 1-0 3A Western Slope), who dropped games at Kent Denver and Denver Christian, went scoreless for 183 minutes to open the season.Paonia narrowly missed the equalizer when, with 2 minutes, 25 seconds to play in the first, a centering pass from the left of the goal narrowly missed the foot of an Eagles forward on the far post. An offsides call negated a 3-on-1 opportunity deep in Basalt’s zone moments before the half.
“It’s frustrating watching us play like that,” McDermott said. “We’re kind of struggling right now, and we’re not up to full strength. We’ll get there.”Those struggles came to a head 30 seconds into the half, when miscommunication by Basalt’s back line yielded the tying goal. Eagles forward Carlos Gonzalez, surrounded by three defenders, came away with the ball and fired a shot past keeper Marshall Cleveland. One minute later, Cleveland dove to his left to turn away Alex Quinonez’s strong shot from point-blank range.”We need to calm down out there,” Eaton said. “There’s no communication. We don’t talk, and no one knows where each other is. Our team still needs to work a few things out.”The Longhorns, who often found themselves bunched up near midfield, finally found some open space down the left sideline in the 58th minute and capitalized. John Peckler charged down the sideline, then passed in front to Long for the game-winner.
Manual Ramirez’s attempted equalizer on a free kick from 30 yards out curved a few feet wide of the left post with six minutes to play. It was the best opportunity Paonia would get the rest of the way.”You’re always fortunate to get a win, and it feels like the league has gotten stronger,” McDermott said. “We know we can clean up the mistakes.”Basalt next hosts Coal Ridge at 11 a.m. Saturday.Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is email@example.com