‘Horns ride into final four
Basalt’s Katie “Sparkles” Staerkel has a new nickname: “The Super Sub.”
The freshman with fresh legs came off the bench as a substitute to score two goals and the No. 3 seed Lady Longhorns beat No. 6 Bishop Machebeuf 3-0 in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A girls soccer state tournament Tuesday afternoon at the BHS field.
Basalt’s iron-clad defense, anchored by senior goalie Autumn Caughern, posted its 10th consecutive shutout and the Longhorns (14-1), playing heady and cool like they’d been there before, extended their win streak to 13 games.
As Machebeuf (14-3-1) players shed tears after the final whistle and the 200-plus spectators roared on the sidelines, the Basalt players celebrated their berth to the state’s final four. On Thursday at 7 p.m. in Golden, Basalt will face No. 10 Denver Christian (13-4), which upset No. 2 D’Evelyn 2-0 yesterday.
“It’s awesome and it gives us confidence, but this is just one game,” said senior Ukare Sano, who scored Basalt’s first goal. “Now, we have to move on.
“Woodsie keeps saying we just have to play the best we can play and we can do anything,” added Sano, referring to Basalt head coach Chris “Woodsie” Woods. “And after today, I think we all know what he’s talking about.”
Sano, the forward who scored a hat trick in Basalt’s 10-0 win over No. 14 Evangelical Christian Academy in the opening round of the playoffs last week, opened Tuesday’s game with a couple of missed opportunities. First, she couldn’t put a foot on a loose ball in the penalty box after senior Ashley Eaton served up a prime scoring chance on a corner kick in the 11th minute, and then it was an Eaton free kick into the box that Sano whiffed on at point-blank range in the 20th.
But on the ensuing corner kick Sano was not going to be denied a third time. Eaton belted another sweet cross and a crashing Sano redirected it – off her stomach – past Machebeuf goalie Katie Vail to put Basalt up 1-0.
“Anything to get it into the goal,” laughed Sano of her abdominal stretch.
Staerkel entered the game as a sub in the 33rd minute and wasted little time, a minute tops, twining a goal of her own. On another set piece with the ball just inside Machebeuf territory, Eaton lofted the ball to the top of the goalie box where senior winger Sofie Stenstadvold trapped it off her chest over to Staerkel, driving toward the net. Fending off Machebeuf’s feisty sweeper Ellen Groves, Staerkel slipped through and laced a right-footed shot past goalie Vail to put Basalt up 2-nil.
“The Super Sub,” said coach Woods. “I can’t believe she’s a freshman.”
Basalt’s defensive line and midfielders maintained control of the field through the first 40 minutes, repulsing Machebeuf’s advances before they could orchestrate strikes in the Basalt zone. Machebeuf’s best scoring opportunity came in the 11th minute on a quick counterattack when a Machebeuf forward ripped a shot from 30-yards out that hit the crossbar and rebounded out for another close-range shot – right into Caughern’s mitts.
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Senior stopper Maria Jacobson, the Basalt enforcer, knocked Machebeuf’s pesky winger Lisa McNeeley out of the game in the 34th minute with a hard, but clean, tackle at midfield. McNeeley was carried off the field with a tender right foot/ankle, and so went Machebeuf’s confidence.
“My heart nearly stopped when they hit the woodwork [crossbar],” said Woods, “but our defense really kept us in the hunt today. [Sweeper] Brittany Pollock and Maria Jacobson played awesome, setting the tone in denying them of anything, and Maria with her hard tackling really helped us take command of the midfield.”
Senior midfielder Shannon Hutton nearly delivered the death knell with a great scoring chance in the 56th minute, but the third goal didn’t come until the 68th, about two minutes after Staerkel re-entered the game. Sophomore striker Maddie Hoffman hit Staerkel streaking up the field and again the freshman burned the relentless Groves, turning her around with a nifty deke that forced goalie Vail to charge out of the net. Staerkel then tapped a shot past her near side to give BHS a 3-0 lead.
“The opportunities were set up by the whole team. I just got to finish ’em off,” Staerkel said.
“The win gives us a feeling of security, we can play with good teams, and it’s an awesome feeling,” Staerkel added. “But we still have two games to go.”
On the other side of the playoff bracket, No. 1 seed Colorado Academy crushed No. 9 Faith Christian 9-2 Tuesday, while No. 5 Kent Denver beat No. 4 Manitou 1-0. The semifinals and the finals will be played at the NAAC complex in Golden. Colorado Academy kicks off with Kent Denver at 5 p.m., followed by the Basalt-Denver Christian match at 7 p.m.
The finals are scheduled for Saturday.
And while Basalt takes aim at advancing to the finals for the first time in school history, Machebeuf coach Stefan Drewes predicted yesterday that Basalt’s win streak will come to an end.
“They’re good, they’re well coached and they’re physical enough to get this far,” he said. “But I wouldn’t expect them to go farther, and that’s not a knock on them. This was enough to beat us, but probably not final four teams, like CA [Colorado Academy].”
The Longhorns, however, are heading to Denver on Thursday morning with high hopes and the knowledge that they will have to again elevate their game to compete for the state title.
“We’re going to have to step up the pace even more,” Sano acknowledged, “but that’s what we’ve stressed all year. That, and just being a team. There’s no freshman-senior rivalry or who-gets-the-goals stuff. We all support each other and we’re having a blast.”
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