BOULDER -- By design, Boulder boys soccer coach Hardy Kalisher made sure Javier Castruita got his feet wet with the Panthers in a very deliberate manner.
There were times during Boulder's first few matches when the talented midfielder took a seat on the bench for extended periods of time. As a newcomer to the Panthers' program, Castruita endured a gradual process of getting to know his teammates while adjusting to the pace and intensity of varsity play.
Now fully acclimated, Castruita appears to be coming into his own at the most opportune time for the Panthers.
Castruita continued his impressive postseason run on Saturday, drawing a penalty kick and then converting it in the first half to provide the only goal in Boulder's 1-0 victory against Rock Canyon in a Class 5A state quarterfinal match at Recht Field.
Boulder's defense did the rest, turning in a number of game-saving plays to set up a semifinal showdown against cross-town rival Fairview.
"I'm pretty excited that we're going to the semifinals," said Castruita, who also recorded two assists in each of Boulder's first two state tournament games. "I owe it all to my team. They're the ones who are making me practice hard. They're the ones who support me and everything. They're the main reason I'm out here and doing well."
While Castruita's penalty-kick conversion gave Boulder all the offense it needed early in the 14th minute, the Panthers received a huge all-around defensive effort to make sure the lone goal held up.
Junior goalkeeper Henry Huettel turned in a superb game, finishing with seven saves, yet he received plenty of help from Kevin Van Lieshout and Joshua Branum, who combined to clear three Rock Canyon shots off the goal line.
Van Lieshout made his save in the early moments while the match still was scoreless, cleaning up a Huettel save after the ball slipped through the goalkeeper's hands. Branum made both his stops off corner kicks in the second half, clearing one chance early in the period and making an even more critical stop in the waning seconds during Rock Canyon's final desperate flurry.
"Whenever you have a guy on the line that can do that, you can be more aggressive and you can almost test yourself," Huettel said. "You can be the best you can be, knowing that you have somebody just in case you mess up."
The Panthers' victory creates perhaps the biggest showdown ever in the vaunted Boulder-Fairview rivalry when the teams collide on Wednesday in the state semifinals. The clubs encountered one another in the state tournament two years ago, when Boulder posted a 3-1 victory against the Knights in the 5A quarterfinals. Unlike that game, which was played before a raucous crowd at Recht Field, fans will have to travel to Legacy Stadium at Cherokee Trail High School in southeast Aurora in order to see which local club will earn a berth in the state title game on Saturday Nov. 10.
The Panthers recorded a 2-0 win in their regular-season match against Fairview on Sept. 27.
"It's going to be a big game and I think people will want to come see it," Kalisher said. "We're happy to play whoever we play, but it's always exciting to play guys where you know the guys on the other side of the field, and everyone has known each other since they were third and fourth-grade soccer players. It's a statement on the quality of soccer that's in Boulder."
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Boulder 1, Rock Canyon 0
At Boulder H.S.
Rock Canyon (10-7-1) 0 0 -- 0
Boulder (12-6-0) 1 0 -- 1
Goals (assists) -- Boulder: Javier Castruita (PK), 14th minute.
Goalkeepers (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) -- Rock Canyon: Nathan Shumer (80-1-1). Boulder: Henry Huettel (80-0-7).