EDWARDS — Welcome back, Battle Mountain.
Huskies soccer is returning to the Elite Eight for the third consecutive year and only the fifth time — all in the past 10 years (2005, 2006, 2011 and 2012) — in the history of the program after downing Niwot, 1-0, in Tuesday’s second-round playoff game in Edwards.
“It sounds nice,” Battle Mountain coach David Cope said. “‘Back in the state quarterfinals.’”
And the Huskies (15-2) got there with all cylinders firing. Donnie Leavitt stood tall in goal. His defense was solid. The team’s offense dominated the first half, but couldn’t come up with the elusive goal until the 66th minute. In other words, Tuesday was a good playoff win.
Starting in the back, Leavitt, who has had some big shoes to fill — particularly in the postseason when it comes to his predecessor, Christian Espinoza — made two key saves in the first 20 minutes of the first half. He stopped Niwot’s Danny Witt on a golden scoring opportunity. Leavitt also saved Battle Mountain’s bacon a few minutes later preventing an own goal.
“I just knew we had talked about how (Niwot was) good on restarts,” Leavitt said. “I had to come up big, and it went the way we wanted.”
“Those are saves that win you a game,” Cope said. “Sometimes, big saves like that give you a platform to win the game. If we had been scored upon, that would have been a different game.”
Leavitt showed nice composure during the second half. While the visiting Cougars didn’t have as good opportunities, Leavitt fielded the ball cleanly, giving his team no worries. Naturally, Leavitt also thanked his teammates, like a good goalie should, particularly the backs in front on him.
And like Leavitt, the defense seems to be carving its own identity in the wake of last year’s state-title run. Eli Stephens likely had one of his best games of the season, while Ryan Wood was ever-steady, making for a solid center-back corps. Tony Luevanos and newcomer Andrew Herrera buttoned down the inside.
“I feel confident going back there and playing defense with all my buddies,” said Herrera, who has been a late-season entry to this group. “All of us together, Eli, Ryan and Tony, we can be solid all the time.”
And there’s an added bonus to the way the defense played on Tuesday. When Stephens and Wood shut down the middle, it allows Luevanos and Herrera to go forward offensively. It was Luevanos who started the Huskies’ goal.
Goal No. 18 for No. 14
He brought it forward to Alexis Robles in front of the net.
“Tony gave me the pass,” Robles said. “I just trusted it and tried to lay it off for my man, Roberto. He got it.”
And if you don’t know who Roberto is, you just haven’t been paying attention. That’s Diaz, and he doesn’t miss in situations like that.
“Alexis just did what you want a big striker to do with his back on goal, just control the ball for a big midfielder coming in,” Cope said. “Once again, big player, big games, big moments. That No. 14’s pretty good.”
That’s No. 18 this season for No. 14. And Diaz from Robles, or Diaz to Robles, for that matter, has been a productive combination all season. They’ll look to hook up on Saturday as the Huskies head to No. 1-ranked Air Academy.
“It’s his birthday,” Diaz said of Robles who turns 18 on Saturday.
The Kadets advanced Tuesday on a Austin Dewing goal in the 77th minute during a 1-0 win over Silver Creek. Battle Mountain athletic director Ryan McKay and his counterpart at Air Academy will set up a kickoff time in the next day or two.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 and firstname.lastname@example.org.