Under control, Gore Rangers on top
Vail, CO Colorado
PARKER ” Maybe Vail Mountain soccer’s orange jerseys stood out a bit more than the Lutheran Parker uniforms, but for most of Tuesday’s first-round 3A playoff match, it seemed like the Gore Rangers had about 15 player on the pitch.
The No. 8 Gore Rangers netted an early goal, controlled the tempo for the majority of the match and got clutch saves from keeper Sean Minett to beat the No. 9 Lions, 1-0 in Parker and collect its first playoff win since 2000.
“One of the measures we use is if the other coach and the other sideline start counting our side to see if we have too many players on the field, it’s an indication of how smart we are, how active we are and how organized we are defensively,” said Vail Mountain coach Bob Bandoni.
Lutheran Parker struggled for most of the game to generate good offensive looks in the face of an overwhelming Vail Mountain defense that started with the Gore Rangers forwards coming back to disrupt play in the midfield.
“They scrambled all over for the ball and beat us to most of the balls,” said Lutheran Parker coach Joel Palmreuter. “We just couldn’t get it together. We couldn’t get the passing combinations going. They outplayed us, but at 1-0, it could have gone our way, too. Their keeper played phenomenally.”
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Very early, it nearly did go the Lutheran Parker’s way. In the seventh minute, Lions strikers Kurt O’Kelly broke in alone on Minett, who came off his line to force O’Kelly to take a shot. Minett deflected the shot in the air, and Lutheran Parker’s Ross Menke, who looked to hit the ball with his hand as he collected it, sent a header into a then-empty net. Before the ball crossed the line, however, Minett came flying back to catch the ball before it crossed the line.
“(O’Kelly) came out on a breakaway and wasn’t giving me anything to work with,” Minett said. “He didn’t have any out dribble, he was dribbling nice and close because he’s a good player. He got one ” not a horrible touch ” but I came out as much as I could and put my hands out and got my hands on it.”
The sequence of saves proved to be crucial, as the Gore Rangers scored in the next minute. After a deep push into the Lutheran Parker end, Vail Mountain earned a corner kick and sent midfielder Blake Armstrong to the flag. Armstrong zoomed a ball on the turf right to defender David DeLine, who was open at the top of the Lutheran Parker box. DeLine bent a shot over the Lions keeper to score his first goal of the season and give his team the 1-0 lead.
“Blake served in a great ball,” said DeLine, who found out after the game that Armstrong didn’t mean to pass it to him. “I thought he did it on purpose. It was perfect for me. They all lined up on the back post and I went to the near post. All I was thinking was get it on frame and see hat happens. It was a tough angle.”
After his goal, DeLine returned to his defensive spot where he won just about every ball that came his way and teamed up with Sean Woods to dominate the air.
“David DeLine may have played his best game of the season,” Bandoni said. “Across the board we had great performances.”
Vail Mountain used the entire field to control possession and often strung together a handful of passes just moving through the midfield.
“They are beginning to play intuitively. You can see guys playing the ball into spaces assuming they’ll have a player there,” Bandoni said.
On defense, the Gore Rangers forced the Lions to make low-percentage passes and dribbles.
“I thought, especially in our midfield, we played really well and they had dangerous players, No. 6 (Kurt O’Kelly) and No. 7 (Kolt O’Kelly),” Bandoni said. “We stepped up and put high pressure on when we needed to. And it was intelligent pressure.”
Heading into halftime, the Lions appeared frustrated with their inability go generate much in the Vail Mountain end of the field.
“We really wanted to come out with some intensity because when you play teams and they bring the initial intensity, it intimidates the opponent,” Armstrong said.
As the game moved along in the second half, the Gore Rangers found themselves with the ball deep in the Lions end, but unable to put away good looks on the cage.
“I do think we should have finished about three opportunities,” Bandoni said. “That’s problematic, and we have to take care of that. I think the runs we’re making are not giving us all the opportunities we can (to finish) inside the box.”
Only one goal back, the Lions hung tough and made several late pushes. Despite a few breakdowns, the Gore Rangers defense was up to the task and Minett was perfect with his positioning and reactions. In the 62nd minute, Kolt O’Kelly broke toward the Vail Mountain box with the ball, and fired off a quick shot, using a defender as a screen. With little time to react, Minett jumped up and deflected the ball over the net.
“I didn’t see the actual person, but I saw him winding up and I finally got my hands up,” Minett said.
Another scare came two minutes later when a long free kick sailed just above the crossbar, but beneath the football upright only a few feet above the soccer goal, leading the Lions to believe they had scored. But Minett, who had touched the crossbar, knew the ball had gone over, and calmly played the goal kick.
In the end, it was Vail Mountain’s offensive pressure that helped close things out. Back-to-back Gore Rangers corner kicks in the final two minutes killed off the clock and as the final whistled sounded, the giant contingent of orange-clad Vail Mountain fans cheered on its visiting team.
“Look at all our fans in orange,” Bandoni said, pointing to a contingent that outnumbered the home team’s supporters. “We had a bus driven down here. The enthusiasm across the school is great.”
For Armstrong, who wore an orange jersey as a freshman, donning the bright colors Tuesday was a treat.
“I feel like it’s been too long,” he said. “It feels great to get back in the orange. There’s a whole new atmosphere and energy around it that brings us up a notch.”
Bandoni was impressed with the undying energy level his team brought to the field.
“We got nice play off the sidelines from Sean Woods. He gave us a nice presence on the left flank. Blake gave us a great presence in the middle of the field. Tony (Ryerson) drew a mark, which is always in our advantage. Carder (Lamb), Ruben (Saucedo) and Jackson Dowell gave us a great presence in the middle. Forrest (Graves) had a great game, got up deep into the attack a few times, which is difficult to do and takes confidence to do. I’m proud of him.”
Saturday, Vail Mountain travels to No. 1-ranked Fountain Valley.
“To push through the first round, now we are in the quarterfinals and it’s quite satisfying,” Bandoni said. “We have a chance to play the No. 1 seed, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Lutheran Parker’s Kolt O’Kelly had several Maradonaesque hand ball moments in the game that, much like Maradona’s “Mano de Dios” went unnoticed by the officials … Lutheran Parker’s turf field was about 8 yards narrower than Vail Mountain’s pitch … there were no cards issued to either team.
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.