Huskies edge Devils, grab league title
EDWARDS – Nothing has come easily for Battle Mountain soccer this season, and things certainly weren’t going to change in Thursday’s regular-season finale.
The Huskies barely escaped with a 2-1 win against Eagle Valley on their home field, earning their second-consecutive 4A Slope crown and the program’s sixth in the last eight seasons.
“Somehow Steamboat made it look easy against (Eagle Valley) this week,” Huskies senior Nick Vossler said of the Sailors’ 7-1 win over the Devils Tuesday. “We don’t do that against anyone. We keep it interesting. We put on a good show.”
From a late win against Summit County in the opener to three-straight league nail-biters the last three Thursday nights, Battle Mountain (12-1-2 overall and 8-1-1 in the Slope) somehow found a way to win. With Steamboat (also 8-1-1 in the league) posting a 5-0 blanking of Moffat County simultaneously Thursday, the pressure was on again, and the Huskies delivered in the end.
“Each team’s a different journey, and this team’s probably the craziest journey of all,” David Cope said. “It’s been every kind of twist and turn and roller coaster. It would be difficult to script it any differently. I think it was really nice to see that group of seven seniors out there when the whistle blew.”
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With a series split with the Sailors and Glenwood Springs and Moffat County ending up tied for third, Steamboat and Battle Mountain came down to the goals-against tiebreaker. The Huskies allowed seven in Slope play, while the Sailors gave up 12, keeping the crown in Edwards.
Uncharacteristically, Battle Mountain came out and got the lead on a Roberto Diaz goal in the 12th minute from defender Bryan Aubel. In the first minute of the second half, the Devils got whistled for a clear hand ball in the box. Aubel got the nod from Cope and the senior delivered the first varsity goal of his career.
“I was just trying not to think about (missing),” Aubel said. “I just wanted to put it in the left corner and just stick with that. Don’t try to do anything special.”
He was good to his word and the Huskies were seemingly ready to celebrate. Battle Mountain’s Diego Rodriguez and Gunnar Wilson both saw goals waived off, and the latter got Cope upset, and it takes a bit to get the Huskies’ longtime coach going.
As It turns out, Battle Mountain could have used a little insurance. Though their 4-11 mark doesn’t show it unfortunately, the Devils did not go quietly. Martin Vasquez scored with five minutes to go. He also had a free kick which bounced dangerously around the box before the Huskies cleared it.
“If you look at their last game, they had a reason to hang their heads. They came in strong and played a great game,” Devils coach Jason Rittmiller said. “From whistle to whistle, they just played a 100 percent and gave more than I thought they could.”
And then there was Devils goalie Isaac Sandoval who was a human highlight reel. The junior kept Eagle Valley in the game with a myriad of deft saves.
“It was great to see him reaching a different level today,” Rittmiller said.
Battle Mountain awaits the playoff draw from chsaa.org on Sunday. The Huskies should be home on Wednesday at 3 p.m. for the first round. Cope said he’s betting on a seed among Nos. 10-16 in the 32-team field.
In the meantime, the Huskies get to savor yet another crown in an amazing eight-year run.
“It’s an incredible run we’re on,” said Cope, who’s coached the boys soccer team at Battle Mountain since 1993. “And the two years we didn’t win, it was a ball that hit the post and another ball that hit the post. It’s a testament to the guys. This season is a little bit of a microcosm of the run because each (year), we seem to lose a player who’s not replaceable and replaced him. We’ve done it from season to season. This season, we were forced to do it from game to game. That’s just awesome.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.