Devils take Mullen, make quarters
GYPSUM, Colorado ” Eagle Valley soccer coach Jason Rittmiller was wearing a shirt designed by his predecessor, Chad Sloniker, during Friday’s second-round state-payoff game against Mullen.
The shirt read, “Respect is not given. It is earned.”
The Devils earned it big time Friday, defeating the Mustangs, 2-1 to advance to the 4A quarterfinals for the first time in school history. Eagle Valley overcame an early 1-0 deficit with superb goals from both Marco Escobar and Cesar Castillo, and the defense, led by goalie Trevor Grayson, preserved the school’s biggest win ever.
“Oh my gosh, I’m speechless,” said Grayson after he and his team went through a massive tunnel of cheering supporters. “I can’t even express how I feel now.”
Not only is Eagle Valley is the quarters awaiting the winner of today’s game between No. 1 Rock Canyon and No. 17 Longmont, but this was a win that erased any doubts about the Devils.
The Mustangs are soccer royalty, playing in the 5A Centennial League before dropping down to 4A for the playoffs. Before the playoffs, Mullen (10-5-2) had played only one 4A team during the regular season, beating fourth-ranked Lewis-Palmer, 5-3.
The Devils knew this well. Two years ago, the core of this team got thumped by the Mustangs, 6-0, in the first round of the playoffs.
“It’s unbelievable really,” said Devils co-captain Steve White, who was a sophomore the last time the two teams met. “Coming into today, we knew Mullen was going to be hard and we just had to do what we did. We didn’t get intimidated by them. They came out in the second half playing really well. We just held our composure.”
“We don’t have to tell anyone we can compete with the best teams in the state,” said Eagle Valley coach Jason Rittmiller, whose team is now 14-2-1. “We just did.”
‘We got this’
Mullen dictated the action early, and the Mustangs’ pressure forced a hand ball in the box, resulting in a penalty kick. Mullen’s Jared Roberts obliged, putting the P.K. past Grayson for a 1-0 lead.
The Devils, though, did not act like relative newcomers to the playoffs, but responded. Ten minutes later, Escobar made a brilliant run down the right side, dribbling through two Mullen defenders and ripping the left side of the onion bag for the equalizer.
“I saw Eleazar (Saucedo) passing me the ball,” Escobar said. “I thought it was too long, but the ball was just right. I just dribbled past them. It bounced back to me every time, I guess, and I went for it. I was like, ‘We can definitely do this. We got this.'”
The Devils had the momentum and Mullen then learned what most of the 4A Slope knows already ” Castillo is simply one-of-a-kind.
The Mustangs tailed him all day, but Castillo got his opening and made the most of it in the 21st minute. Gonzalo Gomez fed Castillo just outside the center circle, and No. 9 just ripped a rocket from 40 yards for what would be the game-winner.
“I just saw the net and I had the ball,” Castilo said. “I thought, ‘Might as well shoot it. I’ve got time.'”
While Castillo makes it sound simple, it just isn’t that easy.
“When they got that first goal, the momentum shifted and then they got that unbelievable second goal,” Mullen coach Sean Keefe said. “We had wanted to contain
Cesar. I think we did a better job in the second half. But he got lose in the first half, and he makes you pay.”
“At a high school level, you don’t see a lot of the things he does,” Rittmiller said. “It’s tough to not look at him at times and say, ‘That’s amazing.'”
Trevor stands tall
Eagle Valley didn’t sit on its lead. Castillo nearly put it away in the 55th minute on a breakaway, but Mullen goalie Phil Rendell made a great stop. The Mustangs pressed well for the equalizer, and Eagle Valley’s defense responded to the challenge with aplomb.
And when the unit had a breakdown, it was Grayson to the rescue.
In the 79th minute, Mullen’s Nick Brant received a perfect cross across the box on the right side and appeared poised to send the game into overtime. Grayson dove to his left and smothered the shot, allowing Eagle Valley fans to breath again.
“I love that kid,” White said. “A couple of times when the defense was off, he made the best saves I think I’ve ever seen that kid make. It almost makes your heart stop. You see him run out with a group of blue shirts around him and he’s got the ball. Oh, thank you.”
“I’m thinking, ‘Get ready for the shot,'” Grayson said. “I’m standing there and I’m ready. I wasn’t going to lose that game. We worked too hard for four years.”
No. 1 next?
While Eagle Valley had a deserved celebration ” fan tunnel and all ” the loss was a tough one for the Mustangs.
“You give them a big hug, you pat them on the back and tell them that they had a great season,” Keefe said. “They went down swinging. They didn’t quit. You encourage them to remember what they did right and what didn’t work so well and you use that for motivation for next year.”
Meanwhile, the Devils will continue to root for Longmont. The Trojans squeaked by Battle Mountain, 3-2, in overtime Round 1. Eagle Valley would be even more appreciative if Longmont could pull the upset of No. 1 Rock Canyon today.
That would put the Devils at home for the quarterfinals Wednesday against those Trojans. More likely, Eagle Valley will be at Rock Canyon next week.
Whatever happens, the Devils convinced the Mustangs.
“My guess is a lot of success for this team through this run,” Keefe said. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to play them right now. It seems like they’re peaking at the right time.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or email@example.com.
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