Wenzel’s late goal leads Titans over Longhorns in league opener
Senior forward Adriana Vargas cut left past a Basalt defender along the goal line and found senior teammate and friend Alyssa Wenzel wide open in front of the Basalt goal for the game-winning goal with just under 11 minutes to go Thursday at The Pasture in New Castle, leading the Titans to a pivotal win over Basalt in the 3A Western Slope League opener.
Wenzel’s second goal of the game helped save the Titans in the league opener after the Titans started slowly in the first half, allowing Basalt to control the pace of play throughout the first 40 minutes. A lot of that, according to Coal Ridge head coach Damon Martinez, had to do with how beat up the Titans were after Tuesday’s physical game against Grand Junction Central.
“It took us a little bit to really get going,” said Martinez. “I can tell you this: We were really sore and tired after Tuesday’s long [double-overtime] game. I just think it took us a little while to get warmed up and get into the flow of things.”
Fortunately for the Titans, senior goalkeeper Annie Esgar was up to the task in the first half, stopping a number of Longhorn chances early on to keep Coal Ridge in the game.
Basalt opened the league matchup with a chance in the first minute as junior captain Emma Day fired a cross into the box that Esgar deflected, leading to a loose ball in the box. Coal Ridge was able to clear the ball quickly, though, before a Basalt attacker could get a boot on it.
Coal Ridge responded with its first chance 12 minutes in as Wenzel streaked down the right wing and crossed the ball into the box. Basalt goalkeeper Natalie Simecek couldn’t get a glove on it as the ball bounced through the box. The Titans couldn’t get anyone to the ball though, as the game remained scoreless.
The Longhorns countered quickly as junior Sasha Brucker worked her way into the attacking box and fired a shot high over Esgar, ending the Longhorns’ best chance to that point in the game.
Late in the half, Wenzel had a free kick from just outside of the attacking box that she sailed high, and the Titans had a corner kick right before the half that junior Arleth Chavez corralled and fired a shot on goal. Simecek was up to the task, though, making the stop to send the two teams into the half.
At the break, Martinez said the Titans didn’t really make any adjustments. They just focused on catching their breath and getting to their game.
That didn’t go so well early in the first half as Basalt was all over the Titans again in the middle of the field, controlling possession as Brucker fired a shot on goal that Esgar stopped, keeping the Longhorns off the board. The Titans countered quickly, and Vargas found herself on the run all alone trying to track down a loose ball before Simecek — who challenged out of her net — got to the ball. Simecek won the sprint, sliding and knocking the ball away from a tumbling Vargas, taking away a prime chance for the Titans.
Esgar then came up big at the other end, stopping sophomore Delaney Card one-on-one to preserve the scoreless tie. That chance for the Longhorns really seemed to open things up offensively, though, as Card redirected a pass from junior Taylor Glen in the 6-yard box at the 9:48 mark of the second half, putting Basalt on top early in the second half.
Coal Ridge didn’t break, though, as the Titans roared back with the equalizer from Wenzel at the 11:21 mark.
Wenzel tracked down a loose ball, slipped past a defender and fired an off-balance shot on Simecek. The Basalt goalkeeper misjudged the trajectory of the ball, slipped and rolled up on herself, leaving her helpless to try and stop the slow-rolling shot from Wenzel as the senior knotted up the game.
“I tried to get a good hit on the ball, but I knew as soon as I connected with it that it was a weak shot and wasn’t going to go in,” said Wenzel. “Then I saw her fall, and it was great to see that one go in to get us back even.”
“I think we have an incredibly gritty team,” added Martinez. “We have some very talented kids, but we just always find ways. Even going back to Tuesday against Central, we gave up two own goals and never quit. These girls just really battle. It’s remarkable.”
Following the bizarre goal, the Longhorns looked to get a prime chance of their own as Esgar challenged off of her line and missed, leaving a wide open net for senior Stella Scott. Fortunately for the Titans, Scott missed wide right of the open net, keeping the game tied up at 1-1.
It was then Coal Ridge’s turn to miss a great opportunity as a handball in the box gave the Titans a penalty kick. Wenzel lined up for the kick and executed her plan of attack well, getting Simecek to react late to a shot low to the right. But Wenzel’s shot struck the right post and bounded away with 16 minutes left in the game.
At that point it appeared as though the game was headed for overtime as neither team put together much of a chance until Vargas’s great run down the right wing, cutting in on goal and slipping a pass to Wenzel wide open on the doorstep for the easy tap-in goal, making up for her missed penalty kick.
“I was so relieved to score that second goal,” said Wenzel. “A penalty kick is the easiest shot that you’ll have at a goal, and I just missed. I was definitely frustrated, but Adriana made a great pass, and I was able to put that one away. It was just a great feeling to be able to come back and score that goal.”
The win over Basalt pushes the Titans to 3-2-1 (1-0 in 3A WSL). Coal Ridge returns to action Friday against Moffat County at home at 4 p.m.
The loss drops Basalt to 0-3 (0-1 in 3A WSL). The Longhorns travel to Roaring Fork Saturday for a rivalry matchup with the Rams at 4 p.m.
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