Comeback kids: Devils in playoffs
Vail, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS “The last thing anyone at Wednesday night’s soccer match ” a rain, sleet and snow-filled contest played in freezing temperatures ” would have wanted was a dousing of ice-cold water.
Unless, of course, you were Eagle Valley coach Jason Rittmiller.
After the final whistle sounded, Rittmiller’s Devils stormed the soggy field in Glenwood to celebrate their 2-1 win against the Demons, a second straight ticket to the post season and one heck of an eight-game comeback. And of course, then came the obligatory shower.
“I got the cooler dumped over my head, and it was a very cold day for that to happen,” Rittmiller said. “But it was great.”
A month ago, Eagle Valley sat in the basement of the 4A Western Slope at 0-4 with only the slimmest chances of earning a playoff berth. But the Devils righted the ship and turned in a miraculous second half of the season, posting a 6-0-2 record en route to a second-place finish in league.
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“We’ve had a long, hard season. We had to fight for this one, but we got it,” said Eagle Valley defender James McGoodwin. “Our guys played with a lot of heart these last couple of games.”
Only one day after beating Rifle, 4-1, in what was just one of many must-win contests, the Devils came back to face a solid Glenwood squad also fighting for a playoff spot.
“Everyone played 100 percent,” Rittmiller said. “That’s what we needed. (Glenwood) played well ” they were a strong team and wanted it really bad.”
Eagle Valley defender Adrian Aguilar netted the game winner almost 30 minutes into the first half on a header. Less than a minute after Glenwood knotted the game at 1-1 on a Demons’ Dillion Martin goal, the Devils’ Cesar Castillo took a corner kick.
“Cesar was going to shoot it, but they left me open and Cesar saw me,” Aguilar said. “He centered it and I put it on the far post. Once it hit the net, I got so excited, I almost passed out.”
Fortunately for the Devils, Aguilar stayed conscious, and helped his team hold off the Demons for the final 50 minutes.
“I felt it could have gone either way. Obviously, the first half it was an unlucky goal, it was a fluke,” said Glenwood head coach John Mount. “I was proud of our guys tonight, we did well and definitely played possession well.”
Eagle Valley’s high-powered offense put plenty of shots on Glenwood keeper Kurt Hartman. Eagle Valley’s Trevor Grayson was impressive, also, turning aside eight Glenwood shots.
“They had some great shots, too,” Rittmiller said. “We got more of them in the goal.”
Castillo scored the game’s first goal in the seventh minute.
Both teams put together some quality scoring chances after that, but neither was able to finish.
“We were close, we just didn’t connect on a lot of things,” Hartman said of Glenwood.
With players falling down and without one of Glenwood’s star forwards, Glenwood tried to the very end to get a score. Nothing seemed to work though, even on a corner kick with only seconds to go.
“We were missing our star center mid Fabian (Tapia) … That obviously made a difference,” Mount said. “It got pretty sloppy there at the end.”
Despite Glenwood’s loss, the Demons (6-5-1 WSL, 6-8-1 overall) still have a shot at the postseason. With Montrose and Montezuma-Cortez thrown into standings, Glenwood has to be in the top five the Class 4A Western Slope region to advance. Right now, the Demons are vying for that fifth spot.
If Montezuma-Cortez loses to or ties Durango today, Glenwood’s in. If Montezuma-Cortez wins, it is in and Glenwood’s out.
During the Devils’ impressive streak, there were a few close calls, including a 5-4 overtime victory against Moffat at home, and some come-from-behind wins and ties.
“We broke focus a couple of times ” that’s how Palisade came up on us ” but we pulled it through at the end,” McGoodwin said. “Our team was really solid with that.”
Following a home stand that saw the Devils go 4-0-2, including a 1-1 tie against league champion Battle Mountain (10-0-1 in league thus far), Eagle Valley won its final two on the road in back-to-back days.
“It was so good ” eight game without losing,” Aguilar said. “We were undefeated at home, and proved we could play in this league and that we need to be in the playoffs.”
For the second year in row.
“It means last year wasn’t a fluke,” McGoodwin said of this year’s postseason bid. “It means that Eagle Valley is building a tradition of winning for our soccer team. Even though I won’t be a part of it next year, I’m glad to have helped build it.”
For first-year coach Rittmiller, the chance to watch the Devils play deep into October is a real treat. Getting the squad there wasn’t easy, though.
“The biggest challenge I had was making the team work together as a team,” he said. “There were strong individual talents that had different playing backgrounds and abilities. But we worked at it a lot and all the hard work paid off.”
Castillo, with his highlight-reel moves, was not just a threat to score when he had the ball ” he was a threat to tally an assist.
“I’m proud of Cesar this year,” McGoodwin said. “He’s been a key goal scorer, but a great feeder. And I’m proud of everyone else.”
Along with the goals, Eagle Valley did a superb job of shutting down top teams in the league when it counted most.
“We’re really solid in the back,” Aguilar said.
Sunday, the Devils (6-6-2 overall) will find out who their first-round state playoff opponent will be when the Colorado High School Activities Association releases the bracket.
Glenwood Post Sports Editor Joelle Milholm contributed to this report.
Sports writer Ian Cropp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2935.