‘Horns stampede back for win
ASPEN The first half of Tuesday’s soccer match between Basalt and Aspen lacked the typical punch that has punctuated the upper-valley rivalry for the past two seasons. Then the sun went down, the stadium lights cranked up and so, too, did the opposing players on the pitch, turning in what was undeniably the most exciting 40 minutes of action this fall in the 3A Western Slope.Trailing 1-0 at the half, Aspen rallied back to take a 2-1 lead with 17 minutes remaining before visiting Basalt exploded for four unanswered goals to run away with a 5-2 win and a season sweep of its fiercest rival.”It was like, ‘Wow, what are we doing?’ But we didn’t quit,” said Basalt senior captain Matt Whittier, who netted two of Basalt’s second-half goals, including the eventual game-winner. “I told my teammates to keep it going. We just pushed it and pushed it and kept pushing and made sure these guys remembered who they were playing.”For sure, the Skiers won’t forget this one.
The win solidified the Longhorns’ second-place spot in the conference behind Vail Mountain School and likely ended Aspen’s shot at returning to the state playoffs. At 7-1 in the league, Basalt travels to VMS on Saturday for a rematch with the Gore Rangers. Aspen – which reached the state semifinals last fall after a season sweep of Basalt – fell to 4-3-1 in the league, and will have to win out and get some help if it is to secure one of only two guaranteed playoff spots.After a first half where its offense couldn’t get on track against Basalt’s physical back line, Aspen was a completely different team at the outset of the second. Junior Cole Green-Smith netted an unassisted goal in the 49th minute to knot the game at one. Freshman Will Bloemsma gave Aspen its only lead 12 minutes later when he caught up to a pass from junior Jesus Meza, outran a Basalt defender down the left side of the field, then fired a shot between the legs of Basalt goalie Marshall Cleveland.Basalt was stunned but quickly recovered. Just two minutes later, the Longhorns’ Mike Eaton served up a pass to a wide-open John Peckler near the top left corner of Aspen’s box, and Peckler did the rest, ripping a curling shot that found the top right corner of the goal.Knotted at two, both teams frantically fought for the go-ahead goal. Basalt defenders broke up a corner kick opportunity for Aspen in the 71st minute, then pushed the ball upfield, setting up Whittier’s first goal. Basalt junior Toby Bopp found Whittier wide open at the top of the Aspen box, and Whittier drove for a one-on-one with Skiers goalie Alex Owen before burying a rolling shot into the left side of the net.”You know, at some point in the second half there it could have gone either way,” Aspen coach Dave Francis said. “When we went to one up, I thought we’d take the game from there on. They got a goal, I don’t know if it was lucky, but I couldn’t really see it, but it took the wind out of us. Then they got another quick goal that completely deflated the team and I think they found it hard to get going again.”
Basalt didn’t sit on its lead. With the match in injury time, Bopp took a give-and-go from Adir Loya and crossed up Owen to put the Longhorns up, 4-2. Whittier then emphatically finished off the Skiers when he lined up a one-timer off a corner kick that Owen never saw. Basalt’s Kevin Newland served up the cross, which cleared a scrum in the box and flew right to Whittier on the left wing who drilled the ball before it ever touched the ground.”It just feels really good, because coming into this game we’re missing like four or five starters who are not even playing today because of injuries and being ineligible,” Basalt coach John McDermott said. “It just shows what a great set of kids they are, what a great team they are. They never panicked. Even like in the last game against Aspen, Aspen came right back and we came right back again. It just shows how strong this team is in their minds.””We sort of lost all of our energy and just sort of let down,” Bloemsma added. “When I scored, we were all excited and everything, we just lost all of that after their goal.”
Aspen next plays at 11 a.m. Saturday at Paonia, the same time Basalt kicks off in East Vail.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
Skiers players were told that Aspen High School hockey isn’t playing varsity for the 2022-23 season. Reasons included a lack of seniors and consternation over experience.