GYPSUM — Both Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley soccer left the pitch of Hot Stuff Stadium to applause from their fans on Tuesday night, and it was well-deserved.
The Huskies came away with a solid 3-0 win, while Eagle Valley earned respect from Battle Mountain and showed that better days are ahead.
“I think when you play a team a second time, it’s a little nerve-racking almost because you know they have improved. It’s just very different than the first time,” said the Huskies’ Molly Phannenstiel, who had her team’s third goal. “I think (Eagle Valley) came out strong and I was impressed with them.”
“It’s just been consistent improvement,” Devils coach Stephen Baxter said. “It’s all the little things — passing, the through balls. Team cohesion is growing. We started the year having not played together, having a new coach and the toughest schedule in the county. But we’re improving with every game.”
The scoreboard showed that. The Huskies won the first meeting, 6-1, between the two teams last month up in Edwards. And, in a great moment of sporting analysis, 3-0 would be better. But what was really telling was that Battle Mountain needed two stellar plays to earn the win.
The first one came with Battle Mountain leading 1-0 — the Huskies scored in the third minute on textbook play from Emily Cope, who got to the end line and cut it to a streaking Logan Nash — late in the first half. With time waning in the first 40, the Devils’ Mariel Gutierrez seemed intent on creating a scoring chance in the Huskies’ end. But Battle Mountain midfielder Acacia Ortiz came back and not only took possession of the ball from Gutierrez, but sent it forward to Logan Nash. By now, Nash knows what to do with a breakaway, and she made it 2-0 in a very quick swing of momentum.
“That’s kind of a back-breaker for the Eagle Valley kids,” Huskies coach David Cope said. “It’s 1-0 and to give up a goal at the end of the half is a tough thing on a team. ... For Acacia to show that tremendous defensive tenacity to dig the ball and convert it into a great through ball is tremendous.”
Eagle Valley (3-6 overall and 2-5 in the 4A Slope) however was not done. Eagle Valley got a shot on goal during the second half, and Huskies keeper Mindy Vickers got the save, but lost control of the ball, leaving a wide-open net for the Devils. Eagle Valley’s Lauren Thorpe got to the ball, but Huskies defender Megan Hogfeldt made a classic tackle in the box, knocking the ball away and sending Thorpe to the turf.
Baxter clearly wanted a penalty kick, but the referees ruled it a clean tackle.
“I’ve played club with Lauren, and she’s a good friend, but in that moment, when Mindy made the save but then she didn’t quite handle it, I just went after the ball,” Hogfeldt said. “I was just going for the ball. I had to stop it because I was the last defender.”
Thorpe left the game, but returned, appearing no worse for wear. Battle Mountain added a third on Emily Cope’s second helper of the game with Phannenstiel finishing.
Eagle Valley has another week off until it hosts Palisade at Hot Stuff on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Battle Mountain, both 8-0 overall and in the Slope, gets a long-anticipated match with perennial powerhouse Mullen on Friday night at 6 in Edwards. The Huskies played to a 2-2 draw with the Mustangs down in Denver last spring, with Battle Mountain surrendering the equalizer late. The Huskies, having proven their credentials in Slope so far this season, are eager to see how they measure up with a Front Range squad.
“Since the day we walked off that field (at Mullen), every kid has been saying, ‘Next year, they come up to us,’” David Cope said. “I don’t think until the schedule came out this year, they all believed that they actually would come. It’s going to be great. It’s a Friday night. If you haven’t seen this team play, you’re missing something special.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.