‘Horns have flare for dramatic | AspenTimes.com

‘Horns have flare for dramatic

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

BASALT All or overtime.That thought was rampant in Longhorns coach Chris Woods’ head as time dwindled in a scoreless state quarterfinal against the Classical Academy on Saturday at Basalt High School. He decided to shuffle his lineup in an attempt to increase the pressure.The Longhorns’ constant hounding in front of the Titans’ net generated a corner kick in the 79th minute. Junior Alia Munger and hobbling senior Katie Staerkel made sure this one counted. Munger lofted a ball into the strong wind, and Staerkel finished a deflection to vault No. 2 Basalt into the state semifinals. The Longhorns (16-1), who blanked Front Range Christian, 6-0, in their tournament opener Wednesday, advance to the final four for the first time since 2004. They will face No. 3 St. Mary’s or No. 11 Machebeuf in the first of two semifinals Thursday at Englewood’s Pirate Field. “We were going to attack,” Woods said. “We were not going to let them get a chance at a shot. With 10 minutes to go, I said to myself, ‘This isn’t going to happen again.'”Basalt clung to a 2-1 lead with five minutes remaining in last year’s opening round match with Colorado Academy. But it watched helplessly as the Mustangs knocked in the equalizer, then converted a penalty kick in overtime to complete the improbable win. Woods wasn’t about to let his team play conservatively down the stretch Saturday. He paired midfielder Kat Fitzpatrick with offensive stalwarts Staerkel and Melissa Stewart to create a formidable front line. The plan paid dividends as the trio, who combined to score 54 goals this season, continually pushed the ball deep into the Titans’ zone.

As the Longhorns lined up for a corner kick in the 79th minute, Woods instructed Munger to cross the pitch and line up for the shot as her teammates piled into the box.

“We’ve got some great dead ball strikers, but it was a good time to take a breath and take some time to set that up,” Woods said.As Munger wound up for the kick, Staerkel, whose ailing ankle hindered her for much of the game, tracked Classical Academy goalkeeper Kerri Zynen as Zynen positioned herself at the near post. As the shot entered the box, Zynen jumped out to swat the ball away with one glove, but couldn’t clear it out of harm’s way. Staerkel controlled the deflection and hammered it home, causing the anxious Longhorns bench to erupt. “I was definitely getting thrashed out there, but I wasn’t going to come off the field,” Staerkel said. “I missed a header earlier, and I wasn’t going to do it again.”In the 68th minute, Stewart dribbled between three defenders on the end line, then eyed her teammate. She lofted a crisp pass to the far post, but Staerkel narrowly missed the attempted header. The close call was hardly a rare occurrence for the Longhorns, who fired 28 shots on Zynen, some of which rang off the post. While Basalt’s defense was its usual stingy self – it allowed just seven shots on goal in the game – the team’s offense was stagnant. Fitzpatrick, who struggled all day to shake loose from Shea Haycock’s suffocating pressure, was visibly frustrated.

Classical Academy’s game plan was working.”We knew we had to take of care of No. 1, 2 and 19,” said Titans coach Mike Fox, referring to Fitzpatrick, Stewart and Staerkel. “We did a great job. We entered this game as the fourth-ranked team in the state [in the Rocky Mountain News poll], and we didn’t do anything to change that. Their player was just in the right place.”As time ticked off the clock in the second half, Basalt sweeper Amy Brumet admitted she could feel the tension escalate. Brumet was beaten in the 59th minute on a strong move from Titans midfielder Wendy Stephens; goalkeeper Dayne Toney fearlessly darted out of the goal to smother the loose ball.”There was a lot of pressure – I’m the last person out there before Dayne,” Brumet said. “Dayne saved us a bunch of times today.”Zynen, too, rescued her team with multiple acrobatic diving saves that thwarted point-blank scoring chances for Basalt. She made just one mistake; Staerkel was there to knock in her 21st – and most dramatic – goal of the season.

“They like to give me gray hairs,” Woods joked.The Longhorns hope this year’s berth in the semifinals produces a more favorable outcome than their previous trip. Basalt, then the No. 3 seed, lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to eventual state champion and 10th seed Denver Christian. Staerkel, a freshman in 2004, remembers the anguish. “We’re ready to make up for that game,” she said. “We’re ready to see four years of hard work pay off.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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