BOULDER — With the Front Range League title already in the bag, the only question on Boulder coach Hardy Kalisher's mind entering the final week of the season was how would his team play when there really wasn't much to play for?
"You had to wonder if they were going to keep it up," Kalisher questioned. "But these guys as very focused on maintaining high-quality soccer and playing for each other as well as understanding that there is a big picture we are playing for."
That was answered pretty quickly in their penultimate match of the regular season on Tuesday at Recht Field against Monarch.
The Panthers struck early in the sixth minute on a beautiful goal off the right foot of Brian Castruita and went on to a 3-0 win over the much-improved Coyotes.
"The goal of today's game was to take care of it in the first half," said Kalisher, whose third-ranked Panthers in the CHSAANow.com poll moved to 10-1-3 overall and a sterling 9-0-1 in the Front Range League. "We wanted to play our game and go deep with quality soccer coming from the guys off the bench maintain the good play all around."
There is something good that comes out of every win and Tuesday's was no different. The Panthers swept the three Boulder Valley Schools — Broomfield, Fairview and Monarch — on their way to the league title.
It was Castruita's goal that set the tone for the night. The talented junior midfielder, who led the team in goals with five coming into the match, created just enough space from himself from 25 yards out and unleashed a rocket that tucked inside the near post and just past the outstretched and diving reach of Coyotes goalie Grier Hathaway.
"I didn't really see any other option, so I just decided to take the shot," Castruita said. "I really didn't see anything, I just hit the ball and hoped it went in."
Said Kalisher of the latest Castruita to roll through his program: "That's a great confidence boost and it really shows you where he is at as a young player. It's having that confidence and playing without any fear of failure to take that shot and he has the technique to make that happen. We've talked about the fact you only need a little space to get a shot like that off and he is recognizing that."
With the hunt on for a 2-0 bulge, Boulder struck again in the 24th minute. Matthew Radzihovsky nearly bagged his first goal of the season, but his shot bounced off the post. The rebound came right to an oncoming Leroy Alphonse, who finished with ease.
The cap to a wonderful first 40 minutes for the Panthers came with just 24 seconds to play when Radzihovsky connected with Skye Guegan to make it 3-0.
It wasn't exactly what Monarch coach Marcelo Balboa had in mind, but to his teams credit the Coyotes played a much better second half of soccer.
"It's Boulder and we know what Boulder has and when you go down you've got to chase the game and (Boulder) did a good job of putting on the pressure and taking the lead and took control of the game," said Balboa, whose team in this same match last season lost 7-0. "In the second half we decided it was okay to come out and play and not be scared anymore.
"That's the way we normally play and sometimes when you play rivals, you don't come out the way you want to come out. The boys played well for 40 minutes and we will build off those 40 minutes in the second half."
Nothing is guaranteed for the Coyotes in terms of the playoffs and they are hoping that a wild card spot will be open for them when the 5A brackets are released on Sunday. A positive result in their final match on Thursday against Broomfield would certainly help.
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Boulder 3, Monarch 0
At Recht Field
Monarch (6-3-4, 3-3-4) 0 0 — 0
Boulder (10-1-3, 9-0-1) 3 0 — 3
Goals (assists) — Boulder: Brian Castruita (Pascal Fuchs), 6th minute; Leroy Alphonse (unassisted), 24th; Skye Guegan (Matthew Radzihovsky), 40th.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Monarch: Grier Hathaway (80-3-4); Boulder: Leo Huettel (80-0-3).