Sanchez, Tigers overcome Fruita’s tough defense in win
The Grand Junction High School soccer team was a little banged up by Fruita Monument’s intense defense Wednesday night.
Abram Sanchez, as he put it, “put two holes in the side of my tongue” after a collision early in the game. Jake Chaffetz wasn’t on the field during an overtime period after a left leg injury late in regulation.
The Wildcats had their fair share of bruises, too, after their on-ball defense disrupted the Tigers’ possession-focused offense for most of 80 minutes.
Still, Grand Junction fought on.
With the teams tied 1-1 after regulation, Sanchez split two defenders on the right wing and ended the game with a low, cross-net goal to lift the Tigers to a 2-1 overtime victory at Walker Field.
It was Sanchez’s second goal of the night and came less than 2 minutes, 30 seconds into the extra period. Rogelio Lariz started the game-winning surge with a long run before passing off to Josiah Koger, whose through ball set up Sanchez’s sprint to the net.
After a game where Fruita Monument consistently took Grand Junction out of its rhythm, Sanchez said stringing together passes late was a relief.
“(Fruita) had played a ball into the box after a foul and we had started countering up the line,” Sanchez said. “We got it in to our forward, he held off his defender, he played it into space and I just ran for it between the two defenders.
“We just weren’t in our normal rhythm and to get those runs in, to get those chances late in the game and to get both goals, that helped us build up our composure and our confidence in the attacking third.”
It was the Wildcats (4-4, 1-2 Southwestern League) who struck first with 11 minutes left in the first half. On a corner kick, Tyler Speer made a run into the box surrounded by several Tigers players. The ball glanced off the crowd before settling into the back of the net and the goal was credited to Speer.
Fruita carried its one-goal lead 20 minutes into the second half before Chaffetz moved into the box, juked several defenders, and blasted a low shot that was blocked by Wildcats goalkeeper Ryan McCloskey. Sanchez followed Chaffetz’s shot and buried the rebound to tie the game.
With the game tied, the Tigers (9-1, 3-0) became more conservative with their possession, passing the ball along its back line of defenders several times before probing the Wildcats’ defense. At the start of the overtime, Grand Junction picked up the pace again to set up Sanchez’s second goal.
Grand Junction coach Jonathan Pando said the rivalry atmosphere and Fruita’s defensive pressure simply got to the Tigers early in the game.
“They were trying to force things too much,” Pando said. “These kind of games, when you’re playing a rival with a crowd like the one we had tonight, a lot of those fundamentals go out the window, right? It becomes a whole different type of game instead of what you’d usually see from our guys.”
Part of that difference came from several adjustments the Wildcats made, the most noticeable of which was moving Sam Pflug, typically a forward, into the central midfield.
Fruita Monument coach Ethan Johnson said the change was made to challenge the talented players in the middle of Grand Junction’s formation.
“I think, for the most part, we did a great job of marking those three guys in the middle,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, we don’t put it in the back of the net more than once. That’s tough, because going in to play Junction, it’s almost like you start the game down 1-0, just because of all the goals they can score.”