Perfect ending for Huskies
COMMERCE CITY – It was the perfect end to a perfect season.
Battle Mountain soccer toppled the No. 1 team in the state, Palmer Ridge, 1-0, in a snowstorm in penalty kicks (4-2) at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park Saturday for its first state title, wrapping a perfect 20-0 season.
After Heivan Garcia snapped the clinching penalty kick, the Huskies joyfully accepted the 4A state-championship trophy. Joe LyBarger was the first to grab it.
“Unexplainable,” LyBarger said. “It’s just amazing. Everything happens in slow motion. You’re just like, ‘Finally, it’s happened.’ I don’t even know.”
Not too bad for a sixth seed, too. The underrated Huskies finished their perfect season by beating No. 3 Evergreen, No. 2 Broomfield and finally the top-seeded Bears in their final three games.
“We beat No. 3; we beat No. 2; and we beat No. 1 and we’ll come back Monday and beat someone else if they want,” Huskies coach David Cope joked.
By the way, this is Cope’s 20th season and Battle Mountain went 20-0. Hmmm. And it also sends out assistant coach Kyle Mercer in style.
“I don’t know if any feeling can top this right now,” senior Chris Shea said. “Unbelievable effort by everyone tonight. It’s for all the fans and for Cope and for Kyle. It’s not even about us right now. This is for our whole valley.”
Battle Mountain really should have won this in regulation, but nothing has come easily, even in a 20-0 season, so why not kicks?
The Huskies went in the same order as they did against Evergreen in the quarterfinals. Erick Briones and Palmer Ridge’s Luke Sinola traded scores as did Gunnar Wilson and his Bears’ counterpart Andrew Bell.
Palmer Ridge goalie John Kochanski stopped Roberto Diaz by diving the right way. Diaz’s shot was deflected by Kochanski’s feet. But, as Huskies fans now know, Christian Espinoza usually has a save or two in him in these situations. He speared Jacob Kochanski’s shot and the kicks were even at two.
LyBarger took care of his shot and the Huskies were in the driver’s seat because Palmer Ridge’s Gustav Seifert went wide right.
“I guessed and that save caused the other guy to miss that shot,” Espinoza said. “He was nervous. He wanted to make it, but it wasn’t even on (net).”
And thus, it was up to Heivan Garcia to clinch the title.
“Com’on Heivan, Com’on Heivan. Com’on, Heivan,” Espinoza said afterwards. “Make it.”
“I’ve seen him bury them in practice,” Shea said. “I know how good a shot he has.”
“Sitting there, the ball is hit and it’s like one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi,” LyBarger said with a slow drawl.
“I’m just thinking, ‘How great it would be to give to our community, our fans and our team a state championship,'” Garcia said. “I knew I had to do it.”
There seemed to be a moment of silence just to make sure Garcia’s shot was good and then the Huskies came spilling across the pitch to pile all over Garcia and Espinoza.
The Huskies passed around the trophy like it was the Stanley Cup. They paraded it in front of their fans. The put the trophy down on the snow, went back a good 20 yards and then slid into the trophy, for good measure.
“It means the world,” Cope said. “We put a lot of emotional energy into this all year long. I’m just so happy for all the players who came before, all the alumni, the school, the families, the community. This group really represents all facets of our community. It was pretty storybook.”
The evidence of the flow of play was in the snow at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. There were simply more patches of green in Palmer Ridge’s end. Putting one in the back of the net was another matter.
One note is that the defense was superb. Brandon Osorio, Briones, Wilson and Diaz let very little get to Espinoza. Osorio had the defensive play of the game by breaking up Palmer Ridge’s lone breakaway in the second half.
And Battle Mountain had chance after chance after rebuffing two Bears’ corner kicks in the first extra frame. LyBarger hit the crossbar. LyBarger was pulled down on a breakaway by Jimmy Kochanski, and the latter received a red card. (Yes, there were three Kochanskis.) The ensuing free kick resulted in Garcia just going wide right.
In the second overtime, Diego Rodriguez was stoned at point-blank range by John Kochanski.
“I just thought our boys did really well,” Cope said. “You have to be pragmatic. You can’t always play The Beautiful Game. I thought, even in these conditions, our boys tried to knock it around. In the end, it wasn’t happening.”
This is Battle Mountain’s sixth non-skiing state championship. The Huskies’ last title was in 2007 in boys cross-country.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.