Titans soccer team earns a tie with Longhorns | PostIndependent.com

Titans soccer team earns a tie with Longhorns

Jon Maletz
Aspen Correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

BASALT, Colorado ” “Come on Melissa. We need you,” Basalt girls soccer coach MacKenzie Eshelman muttered Thursday as she paced the sidelines in the waning minutes of a game against Coal Ridge.

The Longhorns had squandered two first-half leads and, with little more than nine minutes remaining in regulation, trailed the Titans, 4-3.

Melissa Stewart answered her first-year head coach’s plea.

The senior forward, the odds-on front-runner for 3A Western Slope player of the year, controlled a pass outside the Coal Ridge box and dribbled toward the corner. As a Titans defender closed, Stewart stopped on a dime, gained a sliver of separation and fired a strike from a near-impossible angle near the goal line, some 20 yards from the near post.

The ball sailed over the outstretched hands of Titans keeper Tori Verdieck and clipped the net in the far upper corner.

“Holy Cow!” Eshelman exclaimed as she buried her head in her hands. The bench exchanged a few baffling stares, mouths agape.

So, too, did Coal Ridge coach Brian Blair, who could do nothing but crack a smile. Despite controlling the game throughout, his Titans could not hang on against the 11-time defending conference champions. Instead, after nine more minutes and two five-minute overtimes, they had to settle for a 4-4 draw.

The result didn’t temper Blair’s excitement.

“To get a draw against Basalt, for us is the step we needed to take to prove we can compete at the highest level,” the coach added. “In the end, both teams played hard and this is a fitting ending. … If we came out with a loss, I’d be a little sick right now.”

Coal Ridge (2-0-1) controlled the midfield during a physical first half, constantly applying pressure to a Basalt squad playing its season opener. But after three impressive individual efforts, the Longhorns clung to a 3-2 halftime lead.

Sophomore Annette Stenstadvold broke a scoreless tie in the 19th minute when she shed a defender in the middle of the field and fired a shot that rattled the top left corner of the net.

Stewart knifed through defenders with adept ball handling and tucked two goals into the top corners in the half’s final 11 minutes.

The Titans hung tough, however, thanks in large part to a porous Basalt defense that routinely over-pursued and was caught out of position. Coal Ridge forward Chelsie Ryan split two defenders on a run up the middle in the 23rd minute, tracked down a pass from Drew Simonson and drilled a grounder past onrushing Longhorns goalkeeper Jamie Matherly, knotting the game at one.

Mikaela Guettler fired a seemingly innocuous shot on goal in the 31st minute that slipped through Matherly’s hands and into the net.

“Coal Ridge played great. They easily could’ve beaten us,” Eshelman said. “We were making changes and subbing on the fly. We’re trying to figure things out and see where we’re at.”

The Titans continued to push the ball deep in Basalt’s zone in the second half. The pressure produced a Longhorns penalty and free kick from just outside the box in the 58th minute; Sam Wilson wrapped a shot around a wall of defenders and past Matherly to tie the game.

Six minutes later, a Basalt defender fumbled an attempted clear mere steps from her own goal line and a Coal Ridge player alertly swooped in and scored the go-ahead goal.

“We’re still trying to figure out how to work together,” Stewart said. “We have a lot of things to work on.”

Tension abounded on the usually loose Basalt bench during the next few minutes, until Stewart stood tall once more.

“They have snipers on the perimeter that know how to put the ball in the net,” Blair said. “Those [three] goals Melissa Stewart scored would’ve gotten past college keepers. … I think Tori made every save she should have, even one she probably shouldn’t have.”

Verdieck sprawled out parallel to the ground to bat a shot from Noel Chiarelli out of play in the opening minutes of the second overtime. Neither team generated any other favorable scoring chances during the extra time.

Now, it’s back to the drawing board the Longhorns, who face Glenwood Springs on Saturday.

“We’re still a work in progress. … I don’t know if we were missing the fire or the motivation or what, but we’ll be OK,” Eshelman said. “I obviously would’ve liked to win, but you take what you can get.”

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