Rivals Aspen, Basalt settle for draw

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim RyanAspen defender Sally Boelens slides in to thwart Basalt senior Melissa Stewart's shot attempt as Aspen goalkeeper Annie Graber looks on Thursday at Basalt High School.

BASALT ” With playoff berths already secured, little was on the line in Thursday’s soccer game between Aspen and Basalt.

Someone forgot to tell the players.

In a match that more closely resembled a postseason duel than a regular-season finale, the two valley rivals engaged in a physical and at times contentious battle. The Longhorns twice overcame one-goal deficits to force overtime. After two five-minute extra frames ” 90 hard-fought minutes in all ” the two settled for a 2-2 draw.

“There’s always a lot on the line when you play Aspen,” said Basalt head coach Makenzie Eshelman, who experienced the rivalry firsthand as a former Longhorns player. “They wanted it bad at the start, maybe more than us. From then on, we started dominating more. … I thought we had our chances, we just couldn’t find the corners.”

“We came out and treated this as preparation [for the playoffs],” Skiers head coach John Gillies said. “This was just what we needed. It was fantastic. … It was nice to see that they came out and competed.”

Basalt (11-2-2 overall, 11-1-2 3A Western Slope) and Aspen (9-4-2, 8-4-2) had locked up second- and fourth-place conference finishes, respectively, prior to Thursday’s game. That mattered little, however, after the opening whistle.

The Skiers set the pace early, controlling the midfield and flooding the Longhorns’ zone, generating multiple rushes on net. Kate Moyer had one such opportunity when, in the 23rd minute, she shook free up the right side and took on goalkeeper Jamie Matherly. The two collided, Moyer maintained possession and fired a shot ” it sailed inches wide of the post.

One minute later, Aspen’s relentless pressure paid off. The Skiers loaded the box during a spirited 10-second battle for possession a few feet from the goal line. They got off multiple shots before Marissa Lindahl emerged from the scrum with the ball and finally knocked one home, breaking a scoreless tie.

“I think they were more fearful of us than we were of them,” Gillies said. “We know our defense and midfield players are fantastic. … If we score goals we can compete with anyone.”

Melissa Stewart, who scored the lone goal in Basalt’s win over the Skiers on April 7, helped set up the tying score one minute before halftime. The senior knifed through no fewer than four Aspen defenders on a run up the middle before firing a shot on net. The ball was deflected left to teammate Katie King, who found the net.

The Skiers went on the attack again early in the second half. Brittany Marrs dribbled hard up the left side in the 54th minute. With a defender draped all over her, she flicked a shot from a tough angle over the head of Matherly, who was guarding the near post.

“It was luck,” the senior joked afterward. “It was definitely an aggressive game. We both wanted it. You could tell. … I was pretty confident [after the goal], but you never know. You still have to put the work in to stay ahead.”

That work included shadowing Stewart. Aspen defenders and goalkeeper Annie Graber succeeded in both frustrating Stewart and keeping her off the board for much of the game. There was little they could do in the 57th minute, however, when Stewart found the ball at her feet and just one defender standing between her and the goal.

One quick head fake later, and Stewart was all alone as she fired low on Graber, who deflected the ball but could not keep it out of the net.

As fatigue set in, neither team could produce a go-ahead score in regulation or a golden goal during 10 minutes of overtime.

“It was a good game, and we really pushed ourselves,” Marrs said. “It’s a reward knowing we’re going into states after tying a team like Basalt.”

For the first time since 1997, the Longhorns were not celebrating as league champions at season’s end. While the streak coming to a halt after 11 seasons surely stings (Coal Ridge clinched the title with Tuesday’s win in Aspen), Eshelman said Basalt has bigger things on its mind.

State tournament brackets will be released Sunday.

“It sucks not winning the league, but we are aiming a little bit higher,” the coach added. “I think this gives us a lot of momentum. … We’re a good team. We’re going to be just fine.”