Eagle Valley tops Steamboat to take league title

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— It might not come off the tongue right for a couple of days, but every time an Eagle Valley player says it, a smile slides across his face.

The Devils are the 2008 4A Western Slope League champions. Eagle Valley clinched the title, its first soccer championship, under the lights at Hot Stuff Stadium in Gypsum on Tuesday night with a thrilling 3-2 victory against Steamboat Springs High School.

Thursday's game at Battle Mountain on now is worth nothing more than bragging rights for the Devils. Eagle Valley heads into the match with a 12-1-1 record overall, and 9-1-1 in the WSL.

"It feels good," senior Cesar Castillo said, a smile plastered on his face. "It feels good. Both teams played hard. It was a good game."

It appeared early in the second half the Devils would travel to Eagle-Vail on Thursday for a must-win match against Battle Mountain.

Steamboat controlled possession for long lengths of time in the first and second halves and looked like to be headed for the victory.

The Sailors' Blake Eddington sprinted downfield and scored past Devils goalkeeper Trevor Grayson to knot the score at 1 in the 24th minute. Steamboat continued to push the action. After a penalty just outside the box on Eagle Valley, Eddington whizzed a ball into the net on an indirect kick to give the Sailors a 2-1 advantage in the 53rd minute.

"They scored, and it's our job to get it back," Eagle Valley coach Jason Rittmiller said. "That's what we did."

A different Eagle Valley team showed up after Steamboat took the lead.

Rittmiller ratcheted up the offensive intensity. The move paid off. Castillo scored the 100th goal of his career on a penalty kick after a hand-ball violation on the Sailors. The goal set up a dramatic last 20 minutes.

Both teams notched chances on goal, but neither could convert until the 70th minute. Midfielder Gonzalo Gomez booted a ball over the Steamboat defense, where a waiting Castillo was hustling down the pitch. Castillo lofted the ball over a charging Sailors goalkeeper Connor Birch for the 3-2 lead and the 101st goal of his impressive career.

"It was tight, he just got through. He's a good player, and he found (an) opportunity," Sailors coach Rob Bohlmann said about the score.

The goal wasn't as random as it first appeared.

"We communicated with our eyes perfectly," Castillo said. "They knew they were doomed before he even gave me the ball. The goalie came up and left the goal alone. I just hit it over."

"He is usually on the top right of the field," Gomez said. "I gave him a pass like that against Golden. I know he is always there. I just placed it there like always."

Eagle Valley held off Steamboat for the final 10 minutes, setting off a wild Devils celebration.

"It feels good," Rittmiller said. "It's what we've been working for all season. I'm glad we did it tonight."

Even after the loss, Bohlmann likes the chances of all four playoff qualifiers from the WSL.

"I think the postseason for the four teams for our league is as bright as it's been," Bohlmann said. Steamboat, "Battle Mountain, Glenwood and Eagle have all been very competitive. I feel really good about how all the teams will represent the league in the playoffs."

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