STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Since the team first took the field in late August, two words have rung louder than any others among Steamboat Springs soccer players.
Steamboat senior Peter White told a local radio station his season goal is to beat the Huskies. Before Thursday night’s game, captain Joe Dobell screamed to his fellow seniors that it was their last chance to unseat the champs.
But on Thursday night when the temperatures plunged into the low-30s and snow coated Gardner Field, the Sailors saw their chance slip away, 3-2.
For Battle Mountain, it meant a season sweep of its rivals and pushing its record to a superb 9-1 in its quest to defend its 4A Slope title and state championship. For Steamboat, it simply meant surviving, as the Sailors’ playoff chances took a big hit and the seniors’ opportunity to knock off their rivals vanished.
“It’s amazing,” Huskies senior Roberto Diaz said. “When we won the state championship, we played in the snow. We’re used to it. Winning in the snow? Last time playing Steamboat? It’s amazing.”
“It really warms my heart to see them playing out here on snow because we remember Nov. 10, 2012,” Huskies coach David Cope said of his team’s 1-0 win against Palmer Ridge in last year’s state-title game in Denver. “And we’ll never forget it.”
For Steamboat, it was its second one-goal loss to Battle Mountain this season. The Huskies topped the Sailors in overtime, 5-4, last month in Edwards after being behind 3-1 and 4-3.
“They really took it to heart,” Sailors coach Rob Bohlmann said. “They put in a great effort. They’re disappointed because they really care and they’ve really prepared well for this. We just came up in the end a goal short.”
The Huskies struck first off the pretty footwork of Alexis Robles to slide one past Steamboat keeper Jake Andersen. But in the 36th minute, Sailors senior Carter Kounovsky crushed one to the back of the net off White’s miss for the 1-1 equalizer heading into halftime.
Battle Mountain, however, quickly asserted itself early in the second half. The Huskies challenged Andersen four times, and four times the Steamboat junior answered. But on the fifth challenge, in the 51st minute, Battle Mountain’s Tony Luevanos finally snuck one by for the 2-1 Huskies lead.
“We just felt comfortable with what we were doing, even when they got the equalizer,” Cope said. “We felt like we were playing well and we didn’t want to change anything. The big message at halftime was be calm, be patient, it’ll happen.”
And it did happen, again, just five minutes later when Battle Mountain’s leading scorer Diaz found the back of the net for the 3-1 lead.
Steamboat senior midfielder Michael Wong headed in a goal off a brilliant feed by White in the 70th minute, but the 3-2 lead proved to be enough for the Huskies.
The disappointing loss, which sank Steamboat to a 5-3-1 league record with three games remaining, somewhat overshadowed an individual performance by Andersen that left Bohlmann saying he’s the best keeper in the 4A Western Slope league.
“He’s phenomenal,” Wong said of Andersen’s game-high 12 saves. “If the ball gets back there, you know Jake is probably going to make a save. If not, he’s going to scrap for it. He’s always lifting everyone up too, which is nice.”
Memories for a lifetime
And the emotional lift, Wong said, is crucial as the team tries to scrape together three wins to make the playoffs, but they’ll need help.
“We just have to look at the reality of things,” Wong said. “Not too many of us are going to go on past high school and play soccer. We’re here with each other, we’ve got three more weeks left, let’s just have fun. These are memories for a lifetime.”
Meanwhile, Battle Mountain, 2-0 on a four-game road trip, continues its toughest stretch of the schedule at Delta on Saturday, followed by a whopper of a game at Summit County on Tuesday.
“I think it’s a great thing for our group,” Cope said. “We knew coming in that this was a four-game gauntlet. These were going to be four really tough games. For us to deal with adversity was so good for us to come together.”