Longhorns are moving on, but barely
It took just five minutes for Basalt soccer standout Felipe Sanchez to erase the frustration.Shadowed for the entire game Saturday by a Colorado Academy defender, sometimes two, the senior could find no open space in which to maneuver. Five minutes into Tuesday’s game against Alexander Dawson, the Mustangs’ defense let up for a moment. Sanchez was waiting.Sanchez put the Longhorns ahead with his 14th and most important goal of the season, and Basalt held on for 75 minutes, relying on its defense for a 1-0 victory over the Mustangs. The Longhorns (15-2) advance to the semifinals of the 3A state playoffs for a second straight year.”That goal made up for my four future shanks,” Sanchez said. “If I put a second one in, it would have made things easier, but I have no regrets. Going to the semis again means a lot to all of us, especially the seniors.”Before most fans had even taken their seats, Basalt struck. Senior forward Alex Giglio dribbled up the side of the field. Sanchez slid into the middle of the box, anticipating a crossing pass. When it came, Sanchez controlled the ball at his feet, then let off a touch shot that sailed over the outstretched body of Mustangs goalkeeper Bruce Pelz.It looked like the Basalt offense was primed for a strong showing. Three days after the Longhorns were held scoreless for the first 57 minutes in a game against Colorado Academy, Basalt’s attack looked poised and confident on its biggest stage of the season. It’s a good thing the defense was, too, because it had to make one goal stand up the rest of the way.”I was pretty nervous because it could have easily gone to overtime,” senior defender Dennis Morgan said. “Both teams worked hard, and it’s pretty sweet to pull this out.”
While the Longhorns continued to apply pressure on Pelz and the Mustangs defenders, Morgan helped slow Alexander Dawson’s top two offensive weapons. Zach Paul and Wynn Sullivan – who combined to score 35 goals and notch 16 assists this season – had little opportunity to pad their stats. On Sullivan’s crossing shot 10 minutes into the second half, Paul went for the header and the ball sailed just wide. Eight minutes later, Paul headed Sullivan’s corner kick over the crossbar.
The Mustangs mounted a charge midway through the second half, overloading Basalt’s side of the field in an attempt to create multiple scoring chances. Goalkeeper Jamie Wirkler and the Basalt defense were up to the challenge.”They never get the credit they deserve,” Basalt head coach Erik Streff said. “They work hard and together. They were talking a lot and played as a team.”As play neared the 80th minute and the game entered stoppage time, Streff alternated between watching the action and looking down at the watch he held anxiously in the palm of his left hand, willing time off the clock. Like he had for much of the second, Streff pleaded with his players to slow the ball down.”We don’t need to keep attacking if the play is not there,” Streff said. “I was hoping time would expire so we could get over with it.”When the final whistle blew, Basalt players and fans erupted. The tension and pressure had finally subsided – at least until Saturday’s semifinal. Basalt faces the winner of Tuesday night’s game between No. 2 Faith Christian and No. 10 Colorado Springs Christian in Arvada.The Longhorns had multiple opportunities to make the game’s final minutes less stressful, but could not connect. Sanchez controlled a ball that Pelz mishandled, but his shot from left of the goal hit the side of the net.
Five minutes later, Sanchez centered a pass to Giglio, who fired a strong shot; Pelz gloved it.”We had a lot of good opportunities and he [Pelz] had a lot of nice saves,” Streff said. “He was a big kid, and it was hard to get the ball past him. Our opportunities will come, and hopefully we will take care of enough of them to win.”As Alexander Dawson – frantically trying to pull even – loosened its defense in the second, Basalt had multiple runs at the goal. Giglio had an open look in the center of the box seven minutes into the second, but Pelz made an acrobatic save to preserve the one-goal deficit. In the 64th minute, Sanchez broke away from a group of defenders, but Pelz gloved his shot to the top corner again. Minutes later, Basalt senior David Rosales drilled a shot that ricocheted off Pelz’s gloves; Giglio headed the rebound, which rang off the crossbar.Basalt will need to capitalize on more than one of its chances each game if it is to advance any further, Morgan said.
Basalt has won 11 straight games. Tuesday was the first time during that streak – dating back to Sept. 17 – that Basalt failed to score more than two goals. The Longhorns are 1-2 this season in games in which they score one or fewer goals.The Longhorns have lost in the semifinals two times since 2001, and have never won a state title. Last year they fell to Salida, 1-0. They are hoping this year is different.”Last year we broke down for three minutes, and our opponent scored,” Streff said. “Today we didn’t break down. We had some good shots, and the guys came up big. That’s all I can ask for. There wasn’t one guy who didn’t try his hardest out there.” Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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