PARKER • For the second time in as many weeks, Palmer Ridge High School will play for a state title.
Eight days after the girls’ field hockey team played in the 4A championship game, the boys’ soccer team secured a spot in the state final with a convincing 5-0 blanking of defending state champion Mullen at Sports Authority Stadium on Wednesday. The top-seeded Bears (17-1-1) face No. 6 Battle Mountain (19-0) in Saturday’s state championship in Commerce City.
Five players scored for Palmer Ridge, which won its 12th straight game and earned its 12th shutout. The Bears are thrilled to be playing in their first state title game.
“This feeling is amazing, and all 12 seniors on the team have wanted this chance,” said Luke Sinkola, who scored Palmer Ridge’s second goal. “We focused and kept our minds on what we needed to do. This could be incredible.”
The teams jockeyed back and forth for most of the first half, with Mullen (10-6-3) controlling the game early. The Mustangs’ Joaquin Gassett hit the crossbar with a shot two minutes into the game and pushed a shot wide right during a quality scoring chance in the ninth minute.
“Early on, we looked nervous and looked like this was our first semifinal, which it was,” Palmer Ridge coach Nick Odil said. “Once my guys settled in and realized they could play, that’s when things started to click for us.”
The Bears settled in all right, with senior Owen Braley breaking the scoreless tie in the 33rd minute with a 50-yard rocket of a free kick that caught the right side of the Mustangs’ net. Andrew Bell ran through the Mustangs’ defense at just the right time, blocking the view of Mullen goalie Andy Mott as Braley’s shot rang true.
“I was just thinking, ‘Get it to the back post,’” Braley said of his goal. “Andrew Bell and I have practiced that free kick so many times, with him either letting it go or hitting it. The goalie couldn’t see it.”
Mullen had another chance shortly after Braley’s goal, but Palmer Ridge goalie John Kochanski pushed Marc Sallinger’s shot wide right. Sinkola controlled a free kick from the left sideline, spun and found the net with an artistic shot with 2:25 remaining in the half to give the Bears a 2-0 advantage.
Gustav Siefert gave Palmer Ridge a three-goal lead 2:08 into the second half, and the rout was on. Grant Ellis added an impressive left-footed goal after making a steal deep in Mustangs territory with 9:28 remaining, and Jacob Escobedo put one in the net with 7:08 on the clock.
The night wasn’t a complete success for the Bears, however, as sophomore Jimmy Kochanski — the younger brother of John who had the game-winner in overtime against Cheyenne Mountain last week — was helped off the field with 21.5 seconds left in the first half. Odil said Kochanski suffered a dislocated left ankle and will miss the state title game.
“I think our guys played for their injured player in the second half,” Odil said. “(Kochanski) has been playing so awesome, and it’s unfortunate.”
It was a night of missed opportunities for the fourth-seeded Mustangs.
“We had a couple of chances to score right away, and if we had made those, maybe (the game) would have gone the other way,” Mullen coach Matt Guglielmo said. “We had two really silly fouls, and they made us pay for both of them. At that point, the game had changed and there was a momentum shift that went toward Palmer Ridge.
“It was a wonderful season, and I’m proud and happy.”