Fruita’s season ends with first-round playoff loss

Fruita Monument’s Devin Bird moves upfield as Arapahoe’s Mike Chism defends Thursday during the Wildcats’ 3-1 loss in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs at Walker Field. Bird scored the Wildcats’ goal.

Coach Dan McKee used his entire arm to describe how much the Fruita Monument boys soccer team has grown over the past four years.

“I’ve gotten to watch them go from here to here,” McKee said, lifting his arm from mid-chest to near his head.

The Wildcats’ senior class, one of the largest McKee has coached, saw their high school careers end Thursday with a 3-1 loss to Arapahoe in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs at Walker Field.

The 12 seniors were the first group McKee coached after returning to coaching in 2010 after a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s also a group McKee said he has grown close to over the course of their careers, and their chemistry together was noticeable since they were freshmen.

“I just thanked them for playing for me,” McKee said. “I really wanted them to know that. It’s a shame that the game ended the way it did, but besides two of those goals, I thought the boys played well today. We possessed well, and we had our chances.

“And the good news is some of the mistakes that (goalkeeper) Dominic (Gaty) made can be corrected in the offseason. He’s only a sophomore. It’s easy to forget that because he plays like a player a lot older than he is.”

Senior co-captain Noah Nelson said he was disappointed with the loss, but the bond between the seniors will continue into the offseason.

Most of the Wildcats’ seniors play club soccer with Colorado West Select, and five or six of them are looking to play college soccer.

“We’re best friends at school, and we hang out all the time,” Nelson said. “I think it shows on the field. We really play well as a group. It’s a real bond, and I think it’s something that we’ll have after this.”

Fruita started timidly the first 10 minutes of the game, trying to string together passes across the defensive line. But as the Wildcats loosened up, they began seeing more opportunities to score. Arapahoe had five shots on goal before the Wildcats had one, but Devin Bird made the most of Fruita’s first shot on net.

Starting from the left side, just outside the penalty box, Bird took a soft touch toward the middle of the field to beat a Warriors’ defender. His next a touch, a little too hard, skipped away from him.

But the ball rolled into open field, and Bird made a sliding lunge for the ball. He put most of his right foot on the ball to neatly tuck the first score of the game into the top-right corner.

“He put that right into the 90-degree corner,” McKee said. “That’s really one of the nicest goals I’ve seen this year.”

About three minutes later, a miscommunication between Gaty and defender Cory Odom allowed Brenden Mendelson to convert an open-net equalizer. From there, a through ball late in the first half left Jack Ryan in open space for a one-on-one score. Ryan tacked on his second goal and the Warriors’ third when he converted after a late corner kick.

McKee said his teams’ defensive strategy finally started working in the second half.

“You live by the trap, you die by the trap,” McKee said. “Tonight was just one of those nights for us.”


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