Rifle soccer falls in first round of 3A state tourney

Rifle sophomore Alexander Villasenor heads the ball against Aurora West College Prep Academy on Wednesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Rifle senior Brandon Beltran booted his last goal in what turned out to be both the Bears’ last game of the 2022 season and Beltran’s last game of his high school career.

Hosting Aurora West College Prep Academy in a chilly first-round playoff of the 3A 2022 Colorado High School Athletics Association Soccer State Championships on Wednesday, Rifle went on to lose dramatically, 2-1, in overtime.

“I think the loss was important,” Rifle Head Coach Jonathan Espinoza said. “It will fuel them and motivate them.”

Rifle senior Brandon Beltran chases a lead pass against Aurora West College Prep Academy on Wednesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Beltran, going into Wednesday’s game with five goals this season, took a pass on a breakaway and kicked a beautiful top-shelf ball past Spartans sophomore goalkeeper Kevin Salas at 21 minutes in the first half.

“He’s just strong in general,” Espinoza said of Beltran. “He can hold up defenders for days and days and he’s just a monster with the ball. I’m happy he got a playoff goal.

“We’re sure going to miss him.”

The Bears then held on to a 1-0 lead for almost the rest of the game. They’d start the second half with at least two decent scoring chances, one of which came at 26 minutes. Bears sophomore Yahir Marquez dribbled through two defenders in Spartans territory but, with a clear look at Salas, missed wide.

Rifle senior Brandon Beltran celebrates his first half goal with sophomore teammate Dominik Pacheco on Wednesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

At the other end, the Spartans started doing a good job of maintaining ball position and ended up threatening Rifle’s goal box several times. Rifle defenders responded by clogging many Aurora pass attempts at midfield.

With all but less than four minutes left to play in the game, Rifle junior goalkeeper Jeff Torres made a diving save off a Spartans free kick just outside the penalty box. The rebound, however, was still ruled live, giving Spartans junior Kenneth Galindo a good opportunity to even things up.

The good goal tied the game, 1-1, and sent the drama into overtime.

Only minutes into sudden death overtime, Aurora freshman Alex Silva dribbled past a Rifle defender near the sideline and kicked a lazy floater above Torres’ head, which found its way in the net and ended Rifle’s season.

Rifle senior Favian Ponce threatens Aurora West College Prep Academy’s offensive zone on Wednesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Espinoza said a lot of the Bears playing Wednesday were juniors and sophomores, thus giving them an extra reason to come back next season and make another playoff push.

“Rifle doesn’t really have a club team, so that’ll motivate them to want to go lift weights, and whenever there’s an open field, they’ll go to the open field,” he said. “But I think it’ll be a great motivator.”

Aurora, seeded 20th in the tournament, went into Wednesday’s matchup with a 9-4 overall, and 6-3 3A/2A Confluence League record. They go on to play fourth-seeded Liberty Common in the next round.

Rifle defends against Aurora West College Prep Academy on Wednesday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Meanwhile, Rifle went into the game 10-4 overall and seeded 13th in the tourney.

“We would always use motivation that two seasons ago (Rifle) went winless, and then last year they went 5-9,” Espinoza said. “So they doubled their wins and cut their losses by double as well. So overall, it was a success.

“It was the first time Rifle ever got to host a playoff game.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.