Steamboat Springs The Rifle soccer team is starting to play its best ball of the season at a crucial time.
With the regular season wrapping up this week, the Bears remain in position for a playoff slot with a 6-1 win against Steamboat Springs on Saturday at Dudley Field.
"The last three games, we've played really good soccer," Rifle coach Tom Taucher said. "Our focus has been on our guys finding their game, not on the league standings."
On Saturday, the Bears found an offensive rhythm, particularly in the second half. Steamboat Springs goalie Elliot Girard had several great saves, keeping the score from being more lopsided.
"Rifle played great," Sailors coach Rob Bohlmann said.
Rifle got on the scoreboard 14 minutes into the half on a goal from Dustin Clay. Ryan Melody was credited with the assist.
They added another with six minutes left in the half on a one-hopper from Stuart Stapleton that took a weird hop past a diving Girard.
Steamboat closed the gap, 2-1, on Max Hamil's goal with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. Nick Labor was credited with the assist. The possession was the Sailors' best of the game. Hamil or David Comeau could have knocked the centering pass into the net.
"I heard them screaming like crazy," Labor said. "I knew they were open."
The defensive mistake that allowed two Steamboat attackers to spring free did not happen again.
"We gave them time and space," Taucher said. "When you do that, Steamboat is really dangerous."
The second half was all Rifle, as the Bears added four more goals to their total. Rifle's attackers and midfielders did an excellent job controlling the ball, and Rifle's defenders kept Steamboat in check with their offsides trap.
Each time the Sailors would try to strike, the Bears' defense would creep closer to the midfield line, giving Steamboat room to build an attack but no room to make runs without being whistled for being offsides.
Bohlmann said there are ways to counter the offsides trap, but Steamboat didn't do a good job adapting in the second half.
In the game's final 40 minutes, Rifle got two goals from Jose Contreras, another goal from Stapleton and a goal from Adrian Macias.
Contreras and Brett Chesley were credited with assists.
Up next for Steamboat (2-10-2 overall) is the regular season finale against unbeaten Battle Mountain at 6 p.m. Friday under the lights at Gardner Field.
The Huskies, one of the state's best teams in Class 4A, needed late-game heroics to beat the Sailors earlier this season.
Steamboat is one of the few teams this season to play with Battle Mountain.
Labor and Bohlmann said the teams play the same possession-oriented style of soccer, with an emphasis on passing, ball control and planned offensive attacks.
"That would be sweet," Labor said of an upset in the finale.