Vail Valley preps: Steamboat wins, 2-0; eliminates Devils soccer
GYPSUM – After Tuesday’s soccer game, Eagle Valley soccer coach Jason Rittmiller politely interrupted Steamboat Springs’ huddle to wish the Sailors well during the rest of their season.
Steamboat’s season may have only another 24 hours in it or it may go into the next few weeks, but it’s still going. The Sailors picked up a huge 2-0 win Tuesday against Eagle Valley at Hot Stuff Stadium in Gypsum, setting up a showdown for a playoff spot Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in Moffat County, while the Devils were officially eliminated from the postseason.
“It got a little frantic there at the end, but we got the job done,” said Sailors goalie Joey Haight, who made the save of the game against Eagle Valley’s Kevin Escobar in the 77th minute when Steamboat was clinging to a 1-0 lead.
Steamboat (9-4-1 overall and 6-3 in the 4A Slope) heads to Moffat Thursday, needing a win to clinch the league second and last playoff spot. A tie or a Moffat win sends the Bulldogs to the playoffs.
“We’ve talked about it a lot since last Thursday against Battle Mountain,” Sailors coach Rob Bohlmann said, referring to a 3-2 overtime loss last week which gave the Huskies the league title. “It’s a fun situation to be in. It’s like bonus playoff games. They have responded. … Today the quality of our soccer struggled, but it was a blue-collar effort and we found a way to get it done.”
The 2-0 loss ended a valiant charge for the postseason for Eagle Valley (7-6-1, 5-4).
“We say we’ve had a great season,” said Rittmiller, whose team finishes the season by hosting Battle Mountain at 6 p.m. on Thursday. “If you look at what we were at the beginning of the season and how far we’ve come, we’ve got a lot to be proud of.”
While everyone in Sailors’ red finally exhaled when junior Enrique Lopez scored in the final seconds of stoppage time, Steamboat’s Christopher Holmquist actually had the game-winning goal in the ninth minute. Lopez picked up an errant defensive clear and sent in Holmquist on a breakaway which he put by Eagle Valley goalie Jose Serna.
Eagle Valley had the majority of chances throughout the game. In the first half, Haight was caught outside the box, only to be saved by defender Tommy Lyon, who cleared it off the goal line. In those first 40 minutes, Enrique Amenacio lofted a perfect pass to Nestor Escobar, whose shot went wide left.
As the second half wore on, the Devils kept the pressure up, eventually sending more attackers forward since a tie would still keep their playoff hopes alive. The Escobars nearly came up with the equalizer in the 77th when Nestor fed Kevin for a point-blank shot. But Haight made the save of the season to date.
“I saw it come through the center,” Haight said. “I knew he had a good shot. I just stepped up. I just got in the path of the shot.”
“Joey has come into his own in the past couple of weeks,” Bohlmann said. “His mindset and approach to the game has gotten him into that spot. He’s done a fantastic job with that.”
Steamboat had been trying to possess and play to the space behind the Eagle Valley attack and that worked in the waning moments of stoppage time. Serna came out of the net to push a loose ball forward. With little time remaining, he had no choice. But his pass was intercepted by Lopez who lofted the ball 40 yards into an empty net to ice the game.
“The goalie kicked it and it just hit me,” Lopez said. “I turned around it and I saw the wide-open goal. The first thing that came into my mind was, ‘Just shoot it.’ When I shot it, it was just going straight, but it had the spin.”
In a week where there have been a torrent of e-mails bouncing among soccer coaches and athletic directors along the Western Slope about figuring out the playoff scenarios, the postseason picture is finally clear.
To simplify the issue, two of the regions’ three 4A schools which play in the 5A Southwestern League have qualified – Montrose and Durango. The Slope League was to get three spots. But Mullen, which plays 5A during the regular season, and drops down to 4A for the playoffs, has thrown a wrench into that.
By CHSAA rule, if the Mustangs finish in the top half of their 5A league, which they did, they get a spot in 4A playoffs. Each year, one of the 4A soccer conference loses one of its pre-allocated spots if Mullen makes the playoffs. This year, by rotation, it’s the Western Slope, which means that the league has only two spots.
Battle Mountain is in by virtue of clinching the Slope last week. Steamboat and Moffat play on Thursday for the second spot. The Bulldogs won the first meeting in Steamboat, 5-1.
“Our thing is we’ve got to be able to get behind them and delay,” Bohlmann said. “They have heads-up players who have knack to find the goal. We’re just going to have to work on delaying them and slowing them down and just looking for their opportunities to counter-attack.”
The Mullen factor combined with Tuesday’s loss to Steamboat leaves Eagle Valley on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason picture. But the Devils still have one more game – Battle Mountain in Gypsum at 6 p.m. on Thursday – which will be, for all intents and purposes, their postseason.
“It’s a big game for us,” Rittmiller said. “It’s a big game for them. The bleachers will be full with a lot of people screaming. It will be what it always is.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or email@example.com.