Soccer: Longhorns tame Lions, book trip to quarters
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
BASALT – Basalt’s Hector Morales called Thursday’s dramatic one-goal victory over Telluride in the 3A state tournament opener a “good awakening.”
“Last time, we were a little too overconfident,” the senior said. “Today, we came out ready.”
The sixth-seeded Longhorns struck for two goals in the first 14 minutes of Saturday’s game with No. 22 Lutheran. They overcame some sluggish play at the end of the first half with a dominant final 40 minutes and cruised to a 4-1 victory over the Lions.
Consequently, Basalt secured a spot in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009. Thursday, it will square off with
No. 3 Kent Denver, a 2-1 winner over No. 14 Jefferson in other action Saturday.
“If we play like this, I like our chances,” Longhorns head coach Brent Hayes said.
“That’s the game we wanted to play. I told them before the game that we had to get back to our roots. We were going over the top too much and hoping for the best. … We had to get back to being the possession team we started out as.”
Two days after being largely bottled up by the Miners, Basalt was given ample space in which to maneuver and came out firing. In the ninth minute, Sean Ryan launched a cross into the box that teammate Elmer Rodriguez tracked down steps from the near post; the junior’s initial shot was blocked by Lutheran goalkeeper Patrick Sanchez, but Rodriguez knocked the rebound into the far bottom corner.
About four minutes later, Willy Salamanca stretched the lead to two with an athletic individual effort. The junior faked out a defender, dribbled past an onrushing Sanchez and booted a shot from close range that clipped the net.
“We typically don’t do that – we usually start slow,” Hayes said. “That was huge. To start spreading their defense that early was really important, and it gave our boys confidence.”
Added Lions head coach John Amschel: “You play a game last night then have to drive for four hours … I was hoping that we could ride a little high from that win and being together. At the same time, it’s such a quick turnaround, and I kind of expected us to be flat at the start.
“I was pleased with how we responded as we got into the game a little bit. We could’ve lost the game 8-0 with how tired we were, but we fought back.”
In a hurry. Shortly after play was stopped because of an injury, about 19 minutes before the half, Lutheran seized possession, strung together multiple passes and flooded Basalt’s side of the pitch. Saline Ryan dribbled up the left sideline, then passed off to a wide-open Stas Kjergaard, who tapped the ball home.
The Lions had a few opportunities to produce the equalizer in the waning minutes of the half, but they came up empty.
The Longhorns took advantage. In the 51st minute, Morales controlled a pass from Sean Ryan, drove past a defender as he tiptoed along the end line, then scored from a difficult angle, giving Basalt a two-goal cushion.
“We had to have it,” Hayes said. “We were, for the most part, outplaying them. But in a one-goal game with the wind at their backs – we saw them warming up and they had huge, huge kicks – we were extremely nervous about what they could do with a long-range kick.
“That gave us some breathing room and calmed everybody down. Then we wore them down. It was great.”
The Longhorns were content to spread the pitch, pass the ball and work the clock down the stretch against a fatigued Lutheran squad. They tacked on one more score for good measure; Josue Fernandez knocked home a bouncing ball in the box following a corner kick in the 65th minute to effectively put this game out of reach.
“I was actually smiling for the final five minutes. That was very nice,” Hayes joked.
He hopes that feeling continues next week, when Basalt battles a Sun Devils squad that pulled out a 1-0 victory when these two sides met in 2007’s quarterfinals.
“Chances are it’s going to be a nail-biter and anything can happen. … It’s exciting,” Hayes said. “The boys are jacked up. I think they’ll be ready. … Nobody expects us to go any further, so we can kind of go back to the underdog role. I’ve always downplayed the Denver thing because I think we can play with all those teams, which the boys proved last year [in a 1-0 loss to eventual state champion St. Mary’s], but I think we can use it psychologically.”
Amschel, whose team lost to Kent Denver, 6-0, earlier this season, said the Longhorns could provide quite a challenge for the Devils.
“It will be a very good game,” he said. “I’d say Basalt has more speed, but Kent is very disciplined and very well coached. They’ve got some great players there.
“I think [Basalt] will hold their own. I do think the fact that they play on turf … will be a big advantage for Kent, but the turf makes you faster, too. If they can figure that out, Basalt can use some of their speed.”
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The dual-sport student-athlete was named to the Class 3A Western Slope League all-conference first team for softball as one of two Carbondale players on the Basalt High School softball team team last fall.