The Durango High School girls soccer team’s defensive back four put forth its gutsiest effort of the season and held on for as long as it could in Wednesday night’s Colorado High School Activities Association’s Class 4A first-round playoff match against Standley Lake, but it was not enough.
Midfielder Keaton Miller scored the game-winning goal for No. 18 Standley Lake (8-8) in the 68th minute after the No. 15 Demons (8-6-1) had leveled the score only four minutes earlier. The Gators held on to win 2-1 to advance to the second round.
The Demons back line, which consists of three sophomores and senior Lydia Schertz, shut down attack after attack in the first half and had a strong start to the second half until the Gators finally broke through.
Miller was able to beat Durango’s junior goalkeeper Emily Badgley after Standley Lake had steadily built up play in the midfield. Miller received a pass from forward Abby Hoople down the right flank. She cut inside, and her shot sailed into the left corner of the net.
“Really, I was in disbelief that I had scored because I thought it wasn’t going to go in, and I just tried my best to get forward and make an impact on the play,” Miller said about her game-winning goal. “Usually, I get hit. I put my body on the line, so I was expecting to get hit and wasn’t expecting to get a shot off, and when I got it off, I really didn’t know where it was going to go, and I am thankful that it went in the back of the net.”
Hoople saw Miller get free after finding her with a pass and yelled for her to shoot it.
“It’s late, it’s tied, you never know what can happen,” Hoople said.
Miller’s goal came four minutes after Durango had tied the game 1-1 with a penalty kick. In the 64th minute, Jael Larson made a run past her defender and was taken down just inside the 18-yard box, and the referee signaled to the penalty spot. Durango junior forward Hannah Coster stepped up and scored to make it 1-1.
The Gators took the lead in the 48th minute when sophomore forward Dani Bird shielded a Durango defender and slotted a pass to Haley Klosner, who took one touch and fired it into the bottom left corner past the outstretched arms of Badgley to give her side an early second-half lead.
Standley Lake’s record in close matches played a part in the end, as the Gators played to their eighth one-goal contest and are now 5-3 in games decided by one goal this season.
“I thought we responded really well after Durango leveled it, and I just told the girls to stay calm because we’ve been in this spot before,” said Standley Lake head coach Derek Cortvriendt. “I’m not sure that Keaton would have been the player who I thought would win the game for us tonight since she’s a holding midfielder, but she was great and had a fantastic finish.”
Durango’s strategy throughout most of the match in its 4-3-3 formation was to play the long ball over the top of the defenders and have a fast forward such as Sasha Kozak or Larson run onto the ball and facilitate the offense from there. The Gators’ defense was up to the task and cleared most of the long balls that came their way. Standley Lake built from its back line and was able to win the midfield game and controlled the pace for periods of the match.
“We saw what Durango’s strategy was, and we got caught there to concede a penalty,” Cortvriendt said. “But once we were able to clear the first ball, we knew how big the midfield battle was, and that’s how both our goals were scored; we built from start to back and tried to catch Durango on the counterattack.”
Durango head coach Jonathan Berzins, who coached his first playoff game for the Demons, said the Demons were creative in their attacking moves and were unlucky to not find a late equalizer.
“We definitely wanted to get in behind their back line, and I thought we had the thought process,” Berzins said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t really getting back behind there. We were either playing it short, or our ideas were right, we just couldn’t create that final ball and get in behind them like we were looking to do.”
Standley Lake had created chances in the first half, but Durango’s defense held firm to keep the match scoreless at halftime despite almost conceding in the 21st minute, when a Hoople goal was waived off because she was in an offside position.
After the Gators took the lead for good, DHS was unable to create a genuine chance, and its crossing passes were covered by Gators goalkeeper Kelsey Clements.
“Once we scored, we just told our back line to keep their heads,” said Standley Lake midfielder Dani Bird, who was involved in much of the buildup for the Gators. “Those final 12 minutes were stressful for everybody, and we just had to make sure to clear it. We’ve found out from league play that one slip can make a difference, so we just did everything to get it up the field.”
Durango had two final chances in stoppage time after Kayla Rubenstein delivered a dangerous free-kick into the box, but the Demons were unable to get a head to it, and the ball was cleared. On the final attack, Larson’s throw-in into the box took a touch off of a DHS player but the ball went out of bounds to end the threat.
The Gators ended with 10 shots, four of which were on target, while DHS had five shots and two on goal.
Standley Lake will face the No. 2 Pueblo Centennial in the second round Saturday. Centennial took down Littleton 2-0 in its first-round matchup.
Berzins said there was a lot to be proud of and is looking to build upon this year’s successes.
“I just really enjoyed the group as a whole,” Berzins said. “We had great senior leadership and everybody across the board stepped up. They all worked hard every single day and really had to adjust to a new work ethic, style and expectation. I’m excited that that is a base already set now, and we can continue forward instead of trying to put in place and implement throughout the season. Hopefully we can continue to keep moving forward.”