HIGHLANDS RANCH — Towing 74 goals on the season with them down to Valor Christian High School on Wednesday night, the Skyline soccer team felt their matchup against the Eagles represented a sound opportunity to get to the second round of Class 4A playoffs for the second straight year.
Instead, there might be some second-guessing over the next couple of days on the many chances they created for themselves — chances that went for naught in a 1-0 road loss to Valor that ended Skyline's campaign with a 12-4 record.
The two teams matched up closely as a 15 seed and an 18 seed should, but Buddy Nelson's strike from about 40 yards out late in the first half proved to be the only score Valor would need. Sophomore keeper Ryan Pierce stopped all six shots he faced to advance the Eagles to the next round.
"This is an amazing group of kids and they poured their hearts into the game, and you just can't ask for more than that," said Skyline head coach Luis Chavez, whose team finished second in the Tri-Valley League. "When you see them battling like they did, working and being hungry, you're getting all you ask of them. It was just, unfortunately the back of the net was not our best friend tonight.
"We came out strong in the second half, and we executed a lot. But the goalie made a couple of saves and we missed the frame on a couple, and that's just how it goes sometimes."
The Eagles and Falcons had never played each other on the pitch, and for all intents and purposes the scoring chances weighed heavily on the side of the visitors throughout the game.
Particularly in the first 25 minutes, the Falcons were flying around and had Valor on the ropes. Pierce sniffed out a crossing pass in a 2-on-1 situation early, and a free kick from Marco Guerrero bounced around the goal box to produce a header that went just over the top of the bar in the 25th minute.
Valor weathered that storm — though it would be sure to continue — and with about 6 minutes still left on the clock before halftime caught a break to give the Eagles (8-7-1) the game-winner. Skyline goalkeeper Diego Chavez made a hard charge to play a ball outside of the 18-yard box, and he was able to kick it to the midfield where he thought it might be out of danger.
However, the ball gravitated toward Nelson and he did not hesitate to put his big leg on the ball just as Chavez had settled back into the goal box. The rocket shot got through his hands, however, putting Skyline at a deficit.
"It was a good win from Diego on the ball, and we were just unlucky that we didn't get to it in the midfield before that kid kicked it as hard as he could," said Dawson McCawley, one of several talented Skyline seniors. "That was a fault on the entire team to allow that shot to happen."
"That was a smart, opportunistic kick," Chavez said. "In the blink of an eye, that was in."
The Falcons didn't check out, and in fact only got more good scoring opportunities the rest of the game. Faolan Moore started the second half with a hard shot from the top of the 18 that Pierce handled cleanly, and the goalie just kept showing off soft hands the remainder of play.
His best save came with about 10 minutes left, when Kenneth Chavarria received a cross pass to the middle of the box from Manuel Macias and deflected it to Pierce's right side. Pierce dove, gloved and dashed hopes for a Skyline upset.
"We worked really hard to win it, and tonight we started out pretty fired up but we just didn't have all it took," McCawley said. "We're thankful for this team and this program, and I know they're going to be back again next year."
Valor Christian 1, Skyline 0
At Valor StadiumSkyline (12-4) 0 0 — 0 Valor Christian (8-7-1) 1 0 — 1
Goals (assists) — Valor Christian: Buddy Nelson (unassisted), 34th minute.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Skyline: Diego Chavez (80-1-4); Valor: Ryan Pierce (80-0-6).