Lions too much for Vail Mountain
EAST VAIL – Apparently, black and purple trumps orange and white.
On a day that had most asking, “This is May 11?,” Lutheran Parker’s Shelby Raper rang up a hat trick, leading the No. 18 Lions to a 4-1 victory through the snow and over the No. 15-ranked and orange-clad Vail Mountain School in the first round of the 3A state playoffs Wednesday at Bandoni Alumni Field.
“It’s really exciting for our team,” Raper said. “We had some people out, and we just wanted to win it for them. It’s a big thing for our school because it’s a big year for our school.”
That’s because Lutheran Parker and Denver Lutheran will be merging into one school next fall down in Parker with their athletic programs combining. It was also a big win for the Lions because they lost their second leading scorer in senior Kelsey HIzer (17 goals and 14 assists) to an ankle injury in the 11th game of the regular season.
Raper, who started the day with 27 scores and 19 helpers, more than made up for it Wednesday.
“She had to adjust,” Lutheran Parker coach Brooke Davis said. “The pressure’s been on her, and I thought she adjusted well. She got on fire when she needed to, and she’s maturing and taking that leadership.”
With the game tied at one at the half, Raper struck on a breakaway to open the second 40, and that was the momentum changer.
“That’s a little tough to come back from,” VMS coach Bob Bandoni said. “With that said, we moved some players around. We moved some players more to generate more up front. Again, we hit the (cross) bar. We created the opportunities, and we couldn’t finish.”
It seemed like a day made for VMS. When it snows on May 11, the mountain team wins, right? The Gore Rangers took the field with lower-school students, wearing orange T-shirts, accompanying them to midfield for the pregame introductions. And VMS had its orange-clad faithful – and some hearty souls not clad in shirts – in full throat.
VMS had planned in advance to go from 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2 formation 20 minutes into the match, and did so, to try to generate more chances. Down 1-0 on Raper’s first, VMS quickly responded with Avery Bellis springing Misha Harrison for the equalizer.
The problem for VMS was that it didn’t convert on more of its chances, especially in the first half.
“Our objective every game this season was to try to play the best soccer we can play,” Bandoni said. “I told them that I thought we did. Of course, what happens is that you get opportunities, and if you don’t bury your opportunities, finally that’s going to come back and haunt you.”
But Parker Lutheran, to its credit, did not get iced down by the conditions. While acknowledging that she hadn’t seen conditions like this in May, Raper and the Lions seemed comfortable in the snow.
“We just played it low and kept it on the ground and making triangles and working up the field and clearing our cleats off with the snow,” Raper said.
VMS seemed understandably stunned by Raper’s early second-half goal, and Gore Rangers goalie Clare Elich made a spectacular save during a mad scramble in the box, which could have provided her team with some momentum.
Yet Raper struck in the 71st minute to ice the game, and Lutheran Parker’s Sarah Mayhill added some insurance late.
“We were nervous coming up here to a small town,” Davis said. “The support was going to be there for their school. We knew about the jerseys. … This is great. I think this helps the confidence in our school and the players. It brings our school together and kind of puts our school on the map.”
Lutheran Parker faces No. 2 Classical Academy, which disposed of Estes Park, 5-0, in a rematch of last year’s second-round game.
With the loss, VMS bids farewell to seven seniors – Kristina Bock, Elich, Sarah Landreth, Bridget Moffet, Kelsey Samuels, Maggie Sherman and Lauren Zdechlik. Wednesday also ended a great season for the Gore Rangers (10-3-2).
“It’s always difficult to leave because we’re not just leaving a game. We’re leaving a season,” Bandoni said. “We’re leaving a really special season – no losses (in league) and a group of really inspiring seniors. That’s the hardest part of leaving today.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.