Durango overtakes Steamboat soccer in opening round of 4A playoffs
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Daniel Lopez’s name.
DURANGO — Steamboat Springs stunned a jittery Durango High School boys soccer team in the opening 10 minutes, but the Demons settled in and capitalized on set piece opportunities Wednesday to storm past the Sailors for a 4-2 victory.
“We couldn’t ask for anything more of a test,” Durango senior midfielder Rensler Beasley said. “(Steamboat Springs) plays all sorts of good teams, and their seeding does not describe their team. They are a great team. We went down at the beginning of the game, but we work hard at practice every day, and that’s the result.”
After more than a seven-hour drive broken up across two days, No. 29 Steamboat Springs (9-5-2) showed no fatigue in the opening minutes of the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 4A Boys Soccer Championships first-round game in Durango.
Daniel Lopez created three opportunities in the Durango box and finished a chance in the sixth minute, as he tapped a shot past Durango freshman goalkeeper Levi Larson, who had come out of goal but couldn’t corral the loose ball. Durango’s back line wasn’t able to chase down Lopez’ soft shot before it crossed the goal line, and the Sailors had an early 1-0 lead. Lopez was assisted by Riley Moore, a senior who had two assists on the night to finish with 31 on the season.
“We thought he was really dangerous and creative for us tonight,” Steamboat Springs coach Rob Bohlmann said of Lopez.
The fourth-ranked Demons (14-1-1) wouldn’t stay quiet for long, and early-game jitters eased away with each connected pass. Steamboat senior midfielder Gabe Davis was whistled for a yellow card on a slide tackle against Durango senior Jack Beattie in the 24th minute. Beattie, a key piece to the Durango attack, was carried off the field, but the Demons gave him reason to get back on his feet seconds later. Ian Mattox, a senior defender, delivered a beautiful free kick into the box, and Heinicke got his head on the ball. His header hit the top of the crossbar and bounced down across the goal line for the equalizing goal.
“We practice them and practice them,” Heinicke said of the set piece. “Every time (Mattox) hit them, he hit them like in practice and put them right where they needed to be. It was perfect.”
The teams went into halftime tied 1-1. It was only the fourth time all season that Durango was level at halftime, with the previous three instances all ending with a Durango win. That was the case again Wednesday.
After back-and-forth play, Durango senior Logan Fullington made a beautiful run down the left side of the field with the ball. He put three moves on his defender and found a streaking Beasley, who fired a shot on goal with his first touch. He buried it in the bottom right corner of the goal to give the Demons a 2-1 lead in the 60th minute.
“We thought we could exploit them wide and then pulling back across,” Durango head coach Aaron Champenoy said. “The first half, we didn’t get down our left side with Fullington near enough. We tried to make a point the second half of really forcing that issue, and he got down there, showed great composure, held the ball up and found Renseler coming in for a great finish.”
Durango controlled play the rest of the match. Only 10 minutes later, Heinicke again scored on a header goal with an assist from Mattox to give the Demons a 3-1 lead with 10:32 to play in the match.
“I thought we defended really well,” Bohlmann said. “Obviously, I think the difference was their set plays. They’re so strong in the air and the deliver in. That’s rare. That really kind of put the stamp on the game for them.”
A Durango freshman added one more goal in the 79th minute. Aiden Araujo took a strike that found the back of the net, and the Demons led 4-1.
Steamboat Springs wouldn’t go home without fighting to the final whistle, though. A free kick from Quinn Connell was passed to Moore, who drew the entire Durango defense toward him before he delivered a perfect pass to junior Joe Westermeyer, who calmly put a shot in goal during stoppage time to cut the Durango lead to 4-2 shortly before the final whistle.
“We played to the final minute,” Bohlmann said. “For us, that’s a big component of how we measure, it’s the effort. Usually, that’s going to lead to the performance. Tonight, in the end, we congratulate Durango. They had a good performance.”
Much of the game was played in the attacking third of both sides of the field. Neither team really gained much traction in the midfield. Momentum had swung to the Demons after the first 15 minutes of the first half, though, and Durango carried it to the win.
Beasley’s goal to make it 2-1 really took the weight off the Demons’ shoulders. Durango outshot the Sailors 22 to 14 and put 12 shots on goal to Steamboat’s nine.
“It’s an opportunity at goal,” Beasley said of his goal. “We create a lot of opportunities throughout the game, but it’s another thing to finish those opportunities. Right as I hit that ball, I knew it was in. It was a first-touch hit. The goal was open, the keeper was out of position, it was a beautiful ball from (Fullington), and I just sunk it in the net. It’s a beautiful feeling.”
While the Sailors’ season came to a close, the team enjoyed the trip to Durango. The Sailors stopped Tuesday night in Palisade, had a light practice in Grand Junction and then took a tour of Fort Lewis College in Durango before Wednesday’s match.
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