Second-half rally lifts Coal Ridge over Basalt in clash of Slope soccer powers |

Second-half rally lifts Coal Ridge over Basalt in clash of Slope soccer powers

Jeff Caspersen
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Jeff Caspersen Post Independent

PEACH VALLEY ” Coal Ridge girls soccer coach Brian Blair nervously paced the sideline Saturday. Time just wasn’t running out fast enough.

“Tell them to blow the whistle. Tell them to blow the whistle,” the third-year coach told Titans sophomore Carly Cloninger.

Eventually, the whistle blew and, for the first time in school history, the Titans beat Basalt.

Second-half goals by Sydney Wright and Chelsie Ryan erased a 1-0 halftime deficit as Coal Ridge gained the upper hand in the fight for the 3A Western Slope title with a 2-1 victory.

“It’s like a monkey’s off our back,” Titans goalkeeper Tori Verdieck said. “We wanted to win it so bad. It kind of felt like winning a championship, but it’s not because we still have more games to go. We still have to give everything next week.”

But the road ahead didn’t prevent Verdieck and her teammates from savoring Saturday’s big win over the 11-time defending league champs.

Hugs and tears were the order of the postgame celebration. The tears flowed both out of joy and out of sadness.

Foremost on the mind of every single Titans player was fallen teammate Emily Johnson, who died in an all-terrain vehicle accident last November.

“To tell you the truth, I’d rather have Emily back than to have won today,” Coal Ridge senior Erica Ruiz said, her voice trembling and tears glistening in her eyes. “We honored her really well.”

After that final whistle blew, Ruiz and her teammates huddled around a memorial plaque erected just outside the field’s entrance in Johnson’s honor. It was their way of letting their teammate in on the celebration.

“We feel like she’s with us every time we play and practice,” Verdieck said. “And it feels great. She wanted to beat Basalt so bad.”

Realizing Johnson’s chief soccer desire didn’t come easily.

Basalt got on the board first when, in the 26th minute, the Longhorns earned a penalty kick and Melissa Stewart sent a laser into the upper right corner of net.

Having to play comeback just to nail down a tie the last time the teams met March 19, Blair initially wondered how his team would respond.

The Titans wound up putting their coach’s concern to rest.

Just two minutes into the second half, Ruiz sent a roller toward net from deep in the left corner. The ball made its way through traffic and to the foot of teammate Sydney Wright, who directed it past diving Basalt keeper Jamie Matherly.

“I knew the goalie had a really good angle, so I was like, ‘I’ll give it a good whack and hopefully somebody will be there,” Ruiz said. “And Syd was there.”

The sideline erupted in cheers as the game’s momentum swayed in Coal Ridge’s favor.

Just a few minutes later, Titan senior Chelsie Ryan took a pass from Kelly Romero and made a run up the left side. Matherly came out to make the initial stop but the ball deflected back to Ryan, who punched in a gimme.

Coal Ridge fought off a number of close calls down the stretch, and hung on for the win.

“When they got that first goal, I was real proud of our girls,” he said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Here we go again. We always have to fight back.’ It was like, ‘Oh, we’ll see what we can do.'”

Next, the Titans (8-0-1 overall, 7-0-1 conference) will see if they can maintain their grasp on first place. Six games remain on their schedule, two against 9-2-1 Vail Mountain and a pair against 8-2-1 Aspen.

“We only have one more win than we started today with,” Blair said. “That’s all it really is. We need to find ways to maintain that level of play and build on it still. We still have six or seven games left ” whatever it is. … We’ve got to keep playing.”

And the season isn’t over for the Longhorns, either. That’s something Basalt coach Makenzie Eshelman quickly reminded her team in the postgame huddle.

“They were bummed, but that’s how soccer goes,” said the first-year coach, whose squad dropped to 7-2-1 overall and 7-1-1 in league. “Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. They did everything they could to win.”

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