Second-half surge lifts Basalt over Aspen

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim Ryan/Special to The Aspen TimesBasalt's Sebastian Liuzzi battles Aspen's Alex Ferreira (3) and Kyler Sciarrone for possession Thursday afternoon at Basalt High School.

BASALT – The Aspen-Basalt boys soccer rivalry is seemingly alive and well.

In 2008 and 2009, the Longhorns dominated their upvalley adversaries, outscoring the Skiers 21-3 in four rather mundane regular-season matchups. Tuesday, Basalt needed a second-half rally to escape with a win and avoid dropping a second straight game on its home pitch.

Willy Salamanca and Diego Villalta scored goals during a 10-minute stretch to propel the Longhorns to a 2-1 victory over undermanned but plucky Aspen.

“I was surprised with their composure and how well they played the midfield. … They passed a lot better than us in the first half,” Basalt head coach John McDermott said.

“As the game goes on, I think the fitter team starts to come back.”

The Skiers (2-2-1) had to reshuffle their lineup Tuesday because of the absence of injured starters Will Bloemsma and Christian De La Cruz, among others. Still, they controlled the tempo early and routinely were first to loose balls. McCall Kauss, who was moved from midfield to sweeper, produced some key clears and helped slow a high-powered Longhorns attack in the early going.

Aspen goalkeeper Jessis Andrade came up big, too, thwarting a handful of Basalt shots from point-blank range. On one such occasion, in the 11th minute, he smothered an attempt from Brandon Medero, then started a run the other way. The pressure produced a hand ball from a Basalt defender just outside the box, setting up a direct kick for the Skiers; Alex Ferreira lined up the ball, then fired a low liner that clipped the bottom corner of the net.

“In that first half, we were probably the better team. We deserved that 1-0 halftime lead,” Aspen head coach Junior Sutherland admitted. “I knew Basalt was going to score. They push and push and push and have some strong kids off the bench. … Missing three [starters], we didn’t have the strongest bench.”

That lack of depth caught up with Sutherland’s bunch in the second half, as the Longhorns generated a slew of open looks – many of which ricocheted off the posts or crossbar. Sean Ryan had three such prime scoring chances hit metal instead of nylon; the sophomore buried his head in his hands each time.

“I had a lucky day,” Andrade said. “It could’ve been worse.”

The Longhorns (3-1) finally broke through in the 57th minute, when a teammate lined a perfect pass into a crowded box that found the feet of Salamanca; he turned and booted a strike past Andrade to square the match.

“We should’ve cleared the line and didn’t,” Sutherland said. “It was a lack of concentration. That happens when you’re fatigued.”

Ten minutes after Salamanca’s score, Villalta produced what proved to be the game winner; he lofted a shot on net that caromed off Andrade’s gloves and into the far corner.

A visibly drained Skiers side could not produce a response in the match’s waning minutes.

“We pretty much worked so hard in the first half that in the second half we were tired,” Andrade said. “[This still gives us] a lot of confidence. We can beat them if we’re healthy.”

Added Sutherland: “The kids fought and gave it their best today. … We’re happy.”

The two teams are slated to square off again in Aspen at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 2.

“They were very good,” McDermott said of the Skiers. “We’re both young. The next couple of years is going to be a good rivalry.”