‘Horns seize final-four berth
Basalt’s Felipe Sanchez broke open a scoreless tie with a left-footed laser four minutes into the second half, a goal that effectively whipped his teammates into a feverish band of believers.Typically at their play-making best in the first half, Basalt scored all three goals during the frigid second half as the No. 2 seed Longhorns (15-1-1) defeated No. 7 Peak to Peak (12-5-1) of Lafayette 3-0 in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A state tournament Tuesday afternoon at the BHS field.The victory sends the Longhorns to the Class 3A state final four for the first time since the current crop of seniors were freshmen.Basalt, the winner of nine straight games, will face No. 3 Salida (15-2-0) on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the NAAC in Arvada for the right to advance to the 3A championship game (on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in Arvada). Salida, a team Basalt beat 2-0 at home Sept. 16, overcame No. 6 Colorado Springs Christian School 2-1 in another quarterfinal match yesterday.With snow ringing the field for the Basalt seniors’ final home game, several hundred fans braved the cold (cold enough to freeze pen ink) and anchored the most raucous cheering section any Basalt players could remember.
The chorus reached an apex after a hard tackle on a BHS player in front of Longhorn fans early in the second half. Basalt senior center-midfielder and co-captain Cy Eaton took the ball off the ensuing free kick and dribbled across the field to the corner, stretching the Peak to Peak defense all the while. Eaton then sent a cross into the goalie box where sophomore midfielder Trevor Brown flicked it over to Sanchez, lurking at the top of the box. Sanchez settled it quickly with his left foot, then rapped a rolling shot with his left to the far post – out of the reach of Peak to Peak freshman goalie Ben Sabados – to put Basalt up 1-0.The crowd roared and the Longhorns celebrated. The expressions on their faces said it all – after some 44 minutes of back-and-forth attacking and counterattacking and uncertainty, the ‘Horns were back at the controls and resolved to keeping it that way.”It was like playing a team just like us – skilled, fast and physical. We couldn’t beat ’em with our speed, so we had to think pass first,” said Basalt senior stopper Jesse Schoeller, an indomitable presence Tuesday in the middle of the field and in the air.”But right after [Sanchez] scored, I could feel it through my whole body. Everybody could, I think. Right then, we knew what we were doing, what we were capable of,” Schoeller continued.Any and all doubts fled the Basalt bench with the goal, and the re-energized Basalt defenders – Schoeller, senior sweeper and co-captain Brett Guglielmo, and junior wing-backs John Paul Fitzpatrick and Dennis Morgan – tightened the noose on the Peak to Peak attackers. Repulsing advances by any means necessary – hard tackles and savvy ones, body checks and artful shields, precise passes and booming clears – the defensive core’s relentlessness soon spilled over.
Basalt goalie Jamie Wirkler showed no hesitation in vacating the box on several occasions to contest balls and snuff out possessions, and he made one diving save with his hands to smother a head-on rush. Wirkler, a three-year starter as a junior, made five saves total, while the Basalt offense peppered the Peak to Peak goal with 18 shots over the course of 80 minutes.Eaton added the second goal after a pretty feeding pass from junior winger Ben Pollock in the 63rd minute, and Eaton assisted on sophomore striker Ryan Zubizaretta’s goal in the 79th minute that put the game on ice at 3-0.Peak to Peak, with six freshmen in the starting lineup, entered the game with nine straight victories.”Basalt’s got quite a team – good skills to go with some size and strength and great speed. And that’ll always be effective,” said Peak to Peak coach Peter Chandler. “We’re known in the Metro League for having possession skills, but today we met our match.”After they got the first [goal], we had to take chances to try and create some opportunities. And then they beat us twice as we tried to spread the field,” he added. “They clicked pretty well.”
The game featured plenty of collisions and jostling battles, jersey-grabbing and hand-checking, hits from behind and verbal exchanges, but the referee did not issue a single card. That said, decorum never left the field either.”A pretty good fight, wasn’t it?” said Basalt coach Erik Streff. “For as young as they are, they’re very talented. At halftime, I got on my guys a little and I think they responded. We finally started slowing down and settling into our style of play. And definitely, that [first] goal got our confidence up and everybody on board.””When we got down,” added Sanchez, “the crowd helped us out, gave us momentum, and I thank ’em for coming out to support us. Once we found that fire inside though, we knew we’d be moving on.”Still, in Schoeller’s words, the victory is just “one more step for us. We’re not there yet,” he said.On the other side of the Class 3A bracket, No. 4 Alexander Dawson (13-2-1) hosts No. 5 Denver Christian (10-4-2) in a quarterfinal match today at 2:30 p.m. in Lafayette. And No. 1 Faith Christian (16-0-0) hosts No. 9 Holy Family (11-3-3) in the other round of eight match tonight at 7 p.m. in Denver. The two winners will meet Saturday at 4:45 p.m. at the NAAC in Arvada in the first Class 3A semifinal match at 4:45 p.m.
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The 2020-21 Nordic combined season was supposed to be historic. This winter was going to be the first ever with women’s Nordic combined World Cup events, the first scheduled for Dec. 3-6 in Lillehammer, Norway.