AURORA — “La Familia” may just be an underlying theme for the Boulder High boys soccer team these days, but the Panthers still have carried the family tradition.
And these Panthers brothers get to play all the way to the end.
Boulder, a team that had not lost in 17 matches coming into the Class 5A state semifinals, will get its chance at a second title in three years after Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Smoky Hill at Legacy Stadium.
Exceptional play from goalie Leo Huettel kept the high-powered Buffaloes off the scoreboard for just the second time all season, but Huettel also had help on a couple of occassions from his observant and always-aware teammates. The Buffaloes kept the pressure from start to finish, but goals from Matt Radzihovsky and Jamie Astorga sent BHS to a Saturday tilt against Broomfield.
In 2012, it was these same Buffaloes that Boulder beat for their first state title with a few of the same players. This year, after losing to Smoky at the very beginning of the season, the Panthers were a determined bunch around their own net on Wednesday, staving off a strong pressure attack from a team that’s scored the most goals in 5A.
Defense was at the center of the victory, head coach Hardy Kalisher said.
“I think we learned a lot last year, as we were an offensive power and Pine Creek was very good defensively,” said Kalisher. “This year, we’ve came to realize that a good strong defense can shut out a powerful offense.”
Boulder withstood tremendous pressure from the get-go, as Smoky Hill came out all guns firing to start. Kevin Van Mazo had some early runs, and Walter Prince bullied his way around in the box for some good opportunities.
The Panthers defense saved Huettel 8 minutes in, when Quinn Liebmann cleared away a ball that was sitting at the doorstep after a scramble in front. The Buffaloes also deflated Boulder’s counters well, at least for the first half of the first stanza.
On a dime, though, Boulder earned an advantage, and they took control of the remaining 10 minutes before halftime. That included a fortuitous bounce in the 20th minute, when Smoky Hill goalie Andrew Franceschi got tied up and could not get back in position for a shot by Radzihovsky 15 yards out.
The Buffaloes countered right back, but Boulder had another solid scoring chance with two shots in the 39th minute that had Franceschi sprawling out.
Radzihovsky had many chances in the Panthers’ semifinal victory against Chatfield, and the work he put in was noticed by the entire team. Kalisher had a good feeling about him, and so did Liebmann.
“He thought he was going to get one,” Liebmann said. “I just had a feeling it was coming, and I feel great for him that he was able to get one.”
“I’ve been pushing for a goal this whole season, and it’s great to have it come in this game,” Radzihovsky said. “It’s great to come out for my team.”
The Panthers put the final touches on the win with a few runs through the middle by Sam Kirk, and in the 59th minute he was able to set up Jamie Astorga right in front of Franceschi for the final tally.
Huettel finished with eight saves after only seeing three shots on goal in the previous two games. He had a palm save in the second half that drew much applause, and he was instrumental in keeping Smoky Hill from gaining momentum on any restarts.
However, Huettel also was quick to acknowledge the supporting cast.
“It was incredible,” Huettel said. “We had one goal line save by Mitch that was just incredible. I was a little bit nervous before, but coming out here and seeing all the fans I just wanted to bring it.”
“They’ve bailed me out all year long, tonight I repaid the favor.”
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BOULDER 2, SMOKY HILL 0
At Legacy Stadium
Boulder (15-1-3) 1 1 — 2
Smoky Hill (16-3) 0 0 — 0
Goals (assists) — Boulder: Matt Radzihovsky (unassisted), 30th minute; Boulder: Jamie Astorga (Sam Kirk assist), 59th minute.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Boulder: Leo Huettel (80-0-8); Smoky Hill: Andrew Franceschi (80-2-3).