COMMERCE CITY -- Lake Brant's lip was swollen, his gums packed with bandages to stem the blood that was flowing freely from his mouth about an hour earlier.
Clearly, Brant bore the wounds typical of an epic battle. Yet this was one sort of pain that felt just fine for one of the co-captains of the Boulder boys soccer team. In fact, by the time Brant joined his jubilant Panthers teammates for a rousing celebration at midfield of Dick's Sporting Goods Park that was 32 years in the making, Brant hardly felt the pain at all.
Brant supported a key, tone-setting early goal scored by Javier Castruita with a pair of tallies in quick succession early in the second half, as the Boulder Panthers used a stirring team effort to record a 3-1 win against Smoky Hill in the Class 5A state championship game.
Monday's win secured the first state title for Boulder's boys soccer program and marked the school's first varsity state championship in any sport since the Panthers' volleyball squad captured the state title in 2000.
"It's very special, especially to be part of the first soccer team to get a state championship," Brant said. "We were creating chances and just needed a couple more goals to put them away."
Castruita put a triumphant exclamation point on what has been a remarkable postseason for the junior midfielder. A year ago Castruita was playing in what essentially was an adult recreational league with some of his older relatives, and he had never seriously considered competing for Boulder's varsity squad.
That changed this year, and Castruita proved to be one of the essential cogs to Boulder's state championship drive. Castruita opened the scoring in the 7th minute, shaking free from a couple of Buffaloes defenders near the top of the penalty area to calmly strike a shot past Smoky Hill goalkeeper Grayson Heath.
"He has great composure and great technique," said Boulder coach Hardy Kalisher, whose club started the season 2-5 before winning 12 of its final 13 games.
"He really, really turned his game at midseason. He really wanted to play for the team and play up to his potential. He's strong and plays like a man out there. That goal set the tone, which put Smoky in a position where they had to (climb) out of that position. And then we got the second one and it was fantastic."
After halftime Brant, whose mouth was bloodied late in the first half when his head collided with a Smoky Hill player as they battled for a loose ball in the air, helped Boulder put the game out of reach in a hurry. Brant scored both his goals in a span of 2 minutes, 23 seconds, converting a corner kick from Luis Castruita before giving the Panthers a 3-0 edge off an assist from Mason Douillard.
Javier Castruita's goal was his third in as many games and gave the junior a final total of three goals and four assists in Boulder's five playoff games. Brant finished the season with a team-best nine goals, scoring two during the postseason, while Douillard capped another impressive postseason showing for the Panthers with three goals and three assists during the state tournament.
Although a Smoky Hill goal with 8 seconds remaining ruined goalkeeper Henry Huettel's bid for a third consecutive postseason shutout, it did nothing to diminish the celebration that soon ensued.
"We've talked about changing people's lives, and winning state championships changes people's lives," Kalisher said. "We're fortunate to play for a community. We've had dozens of little kids at games and coaches and alumni ... and they play for Boulder and they play for the Boulder community. There's only a handful of high schools that truly get to say they have their town on their chest. That carries this team."
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Boulder 3, Smoky Hill 1
At Dick's Sporting Good Park
Boulder (14-6-0) 1 2 -- 3
Smoky Hill (15-2-3) 0 1 -- 1
Goals (assists) -- Boulder: Javier Castruita, 7th minute; Boulder; Lake Brant (Luis Castruita), 51st minute; Boulder: Brant (Mason Douillard), 53rd minute; Smoky Hill: Marquise Spinuzzi, 80th minute.
Goalkeepers (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) -- Boulder: Henry Huettel (80-1-5); Smoky Hill: Grayson Heath (80-3-6).