Battle Mountain outlasts Rifle, 2-1
EAGLE-VAIL – The race for the 4A Slope is on – and Battle Mountain soccer struck first blood Saturday in Eagle-Vail, defeating defending champion, Rifle, 2-1, Saturday.The Huskies played an excellent first half, getting goals from Andy Banner and Edgar Hernandez, before holding off a blistering Rifle charge in the second half. With the win, Battle Mountain moved to 3-0 in the Slope, two points ahead of Glenwood, while Rifle fell to 0-1-1.”It’s a huge win,” Huskies coach David Cope said. “The boys enjoy playing on this field and you’ve got to win the home games in this league. Playing against the defending league champions is always a bit extra. I thought they were a good team. I thought they did some good things. So, it was good for our guys to compete and to be forced to play with a lead in a game where any mistake can cost you.”Second half heatBattle Mountain had its back to the wall in the second half as Rifle turned up the pressure down 2-0. Both Rifle’s Stuart Stapleton and Adam Krick had excellent chance, only to be denied by Huskies goalie Joel Gonzales. Finally in the 73rd minute, Rifle senior Seth Martin rammed in a beautiful shot from the right side to far post to halve the lead.”We switched a few guys around and the guys came out with a little more passion in the second half than in the first half,” Rifle coach Tom Taucher said. “We’ve had a tendency to come out a little flat in games and we’ve been a strong second-half team. Against Glenwood we scored three goals in the second half and we thought we could do that today. We just kind of ran out of time there in the end.”The Bears also ran into Battle Mountain’s Everado Gonzales, Man of the Match, and Antonio Aparicio, Unsung Hero. Gonzales, in his trademark orange boots, was flying around all over the field, making tackles and clearing balls from the Huskies’ zone.”I just tried to stay focused and I did whatever I needed to do to win, to get the three points at home,” Gonzales said. “We just talk to each other. I always try to be a friend and tell them to get their guy and always get free in the back, so we can work more as a team.”Then, there was Aparicio. Normally an offense player, the senior went both ways Saturday and was key in holding down the fort in the waning minutes.”They were the two keys for us in the second half,” Huskies assistant Jeff Hayslip said. “Without their work rate and heart, it would have been really hard for us to pull off the victory. So, we owe them a lot. But, the team stuck together and they were able to pull it out and that’s the most important thing.”Set plays decide itIt wouldn’t be a big Slope game without a little controversy. Rifle’s Stapleton drew a double yellow late in the game and was done for the day, a displeasing development for Taucher.”The refs ref the game. There wasn’t a lot of consistency,” he said. “We shouldn’t lose a guy to a red card on other stuff that was just let go. But, that’s homefield advantage. We move on. We’ve got a game on Tuesday. We’ll adjust.”Aside from the officiating, the Bears could also point to their poor play on set plays. Rifle rarely played its corner kicks into the box and there was very little organization on its free kicks.And, that was the difference in the first half. Battle Mountain converted twice on set plays. Banner rifled his penalty kick into the left panel in the sixth minute for a 1-0 lead and his eighth goal in four games. After Stapleton missed a PK of his own wide left, the Huskies struck on a corner kick.In the 32nd minute, Kyle Moore placed a beautiful ball into the Rifle box. Connor Drumm got a head on it to Edgar Hernandez who headed it in for a 2-0 lead.”It was fitting that the winning goal was a head ball,” Cope said. “We won so many head balls in our own end and we worked so hard. For Connor to come forward from the back, head that ball across and to Edgar to head it in – to beat Rifle with a header goal is pretty sweet justice because we’ve lost to them on that exact thing.”Steamboat nextWhile Rifle heads to Moffat County Tuesday, the Huskies host another big one on the same day – Steamboat Springs at 4 p.m. Steamboat defeated Palisade on the road, 3-2, Saturday. The Sailors are 2-1 in the Slope with their loss coming at Moffat County. The Huskies know all too well about losing at Moffat, having done so last year.Of course, Battle Mountain never takes Steamboat lightly. Since Battle Mountain moved up to 4A, the Sailors have replaced Vail Mountain as the Huskies’ archrivals. Battle Mountain broke through against Steamboat at the end of last season, beating the Sailors for the first time since 1992.That 2-0 win should give Battle Mountain some added confidence going into Tuesday’s game. “Most of these guys played in that game,” Cope said. “It was a huge win for them. It felt like getting over a hurdle. Now, we’ve done this. Now, we can go onto bigger and better things. In many ways, this win set the the stage for this season, for the boys to come into the season with confidence.””We had to get rid of the bad luck of 11 years straight,” Aparicio said. “We just tried hard and we had to get rid of it.” Just for kicksDon’t forget rumm’s work in back. He left the game after getting a bump on the head in the second half. “Connor was playing a great game, flawless game,” Cope said. “He assisted the second goal and was just flawless defensively and was keeping possession for us. When he got injured, was when we started to get some pressure against us.” … Same goes for Harrison Brown who continues to play despite an injury. … Battle Mountain faces a tough week ahead. After Steamboat, Battle Mountain is at Moffat Thursday and at Glenwood Saturday. He didn’t say it, but Cope is doubtless thinking about the Huskies surfing the Web, as in “W-W-W.”Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 614, or email@example.com.