May 18, 2014 Updated: May 18, 2014 at 11:54 am
PARKER - Ellen Smith turned to the north and saw exactly what she hoped to see: An open left corner of the goal.
Smith, a Cheyenne Mountain senior, was about to conclude a long, scoreless soccer struggle at Sports Authority Field. Smith and her teammates were in the second minute of overtime against Green Mountain.
Cheyenne Mountain is the defending 4A champs, and a pesky gang of Green Mountain Rams retained hopes of delivering an upset.
Until Smith unloaded with her right foot.
"I've got to make this," Smith said to herself as she wound up. "I've got to score."
She did score, burying a shot from 17 yards into the left corner. The shot carried Cheyenne Mountain to Wednesday's state final in Commerce City. Cheyenne Mountain will play Broomfield, which throttled Sand Creek 5-0 in the other 4A semi. This pairing is a rematch of last season's final.
Cheyenne Mountain has dribbled through this season with the blessing, and the burden, of the state title. Smith and her teammates have played with targets on their backs.
They handled the pressure with grace, partially because coach Tomas Martinez declines to place high pressure on his players. When Cheyenne Mountain arrived at Sports Authority Field prior to Saturday's game, Martinez gathered his players and offered a short speech.
"The semis are nothing but house money," Martinez said. "Anybody here can win. So enjoy it. Enjoy and make the best of it. Have fun and just take it all in. If it ends today, we did a great job this year."
The speech worked for Smith, who has been a bit stressed as she nears the end of her competitive soccer days. She will attend Williamette University in Oregon next fall. She will not play soccer.
"His talk helped so much," Smith said. "He's not one of those coaches who yell at you. He says, 'Just relax. Play your game. Have fun.'"
In the seconds after Smith's goal, Cheyenne Mountain players dived into an ocean of fun for Cheyenne Mountain. Smith's teammates pounced on her, shouting "Knew you could do it, El!"
The only damper on all the fun was the limping presence of Cheyenne Mountain star Hannah Gerdin, who suffered a sprained left ankle with 16:30 left in regulation. Gerdin watched from the bench when Smith took a pass from Thalia Kusalas and fired Cheyenne Mountain into the final.
Gerdin scored 10 goals this season for a balanced Cheyenne Mountain offense. She hopes to score a final goal in Wednesday's final.
But her presence on the field remains iffy.
"I can't walk on it," Gergin said with a grimace a few minutes after the win. "I'll take care of myself and hope it gets getter. If not, who cares, I'll just push through the pain."
Cheyenne Mountain will need its best offensive threat. Cheyenne Mountain has crawled to the final with two consecutive 1-0 wins. The team is stingy on defense, allowing only five goals the entire season.
But one goal might not be enough for victory over the prolific Broomfield Eagles in Wednesday's final.