The Delta Panthers survived a torrid 80 minutes of physical exertion and overcame a determined Bayfield Wolverine soccer team in the opening round of this year's 3A state soccer championships. The match, played in Delta, was evenly matched for nearly 80 minutes of play. In the end, Delta scored a 2-0 victory to advance to the next round, played on Oct. 31, in Denver at Manual High School. The opponent was No. 5 Denver Science and Technology. Details of that match-up will appear in next week's edition of the Delta County Independent.
Last week's home field contest was a rarity for the Panthers. Western Slope teams have not fared well drawing home field advantage over the years. The Panthers were in Lafayatte for last year's opening round.
This year's opening round was played in front of a home crowd. "This was special for us," noted Delta coach Elaine Wood. "The kids earned this chance."
Against Bayfield, playing in its first-ever 3A playoff game, neither team could find a chink in the armor of its opponent in the first 40 minutes of play.
Delta had a pair of long strikes which sailed high above the net that looked to be good from a distance.
Both teams were aggressive from the beginning with Delta drawing (unofficially) 10 free kicks in the first half and the Wolverines had five such kicks in the same time span.
Second-half play exhibited the same aggressiveness as each team had turns moving the ball over midfield several times. Bayfield took eight free kicks and the Panthers had five.
The first goal was scored at the 26:54 point of the second half. Martin Corral found the net on a penalty kick to give Delta a lead it would never relinquish. Corral's kick came after senior Danny Mendoza was fouled in the penalty area.
Bayfield was given a penalty kick in the latter stages of the second half. The kick came straight at goal keeper Felipe Bedoy, who made the stop to keep Delta ahead 1-0.
Delta's second score came from in front of the penalty box. Mendoza's scoring kick came amid a chaotic melee and found a pathway to the net for the Panthers' second goal with somewhere around 1:20 left in the match.
Bayfield had numerous shots goalward but could not get past the Panthers' Bedoy. Bedoy has a 13-2 record, including seven shutout wins for the Panthers in 2017. When asked about his performance against the Wolverines, Bedoy gave most of the credit to his teammates. "I feel proud for my teammates. They played great defense and made the stops before the offense could get to me."
Wood noted Bedoy's play has been elevated by the presence of goalie coach Katie Ortiz who has collegiate experience.
Other western slope teams that played matches on Oct. 31 included No. 23 Roaring Fork (13-3) at No. 7 The Academy (12-1-3) and No. 15 Coal Ridge (13-2-1) at No. 2 Kent Denver (14-1-1). Winners of the Oct. 31 games play in quarterfinal matches set for Saturday, Nov. 4. Semifinal round action is scheduled for Nov. 8 with the finals set for Nov. 11.
The fact that there are still several teams from the WSL, and Montrose, Grand Junction and Durango, in the state playoffs speaks well of quality competition needed for top teams in the area.
"We have a tough league. Montrose, Grand Junction and Durango are still alive too. I think we (Western Slope) are showing up more in these upper divisions and are fighting hard to have a place at the table. It will be interesting to see how it looks next year with the addition of 2A," noted Wood.
Comparing team profiles with Delta's next opponent, Denver Science and Tech Stapleton, Wood spoke on how the match-up might look. "We have pretty even statistics in some areas with Denver Science and Tech. They have a turf field so we will be practicing on a turf field before we play (on Monday in a practice session). The ball plays differently on a turf field."