A chilly, brisk afternoon didn’t hinder Montrose on the soccer field at Montrose High School. In fact, the Indians played opposite of “cold,” at least to start the second half.
Tied 1-1 after 40 minutes of play, the Indians pushed into Fruita territory, finding cracks and seams in the Wildcat defense. Montrose’s play led to a corner kick, and after bouncing off a pair of players, Diego Vargas offered a nifty touch pass to striker Adriel Encarnacion, who, after a deflection off Fruita’s goalkeeper, punched the ball in to the right side of the net for the game-winning score and a 2-1 victory.
It’s Montrose’s second-straight win over conference rival Fruita (fifth win out of the last six meetings), and third straight win overall. And, with the victory, it secures a season sweep of their counterpart.
“We made an adjustment and talked about needing to be more aggressive towards the goal [compared to] the first half,” Montrose coach Cassie Snyder said. “That was the only stat we weren’t winning at… and we needed to get more shots on frame.”
The Indians made quick work with that mindset, scoring just a little over three minutes into the second half. Overall, the team had nine shots on goal in the win.
“A famous saying that I steal from my dad, ‘I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but it doesn’t matter, it’s a win,’” said Snyder, who commended the players for their resiliency. “That’s what we’re rolling with, and we put ourselves in a good position in the league.”
The Indians lost some of their pacing in the second half, feeding off tense energy from a Fruita club uninterested in heading home with a third straight loss. The pace led to increased opportunities for the Wildcats on Montrose’s side of the field, with Fruita placing considerable on-ball pressure.
The Wildcats nearly scored, on multiple occasions, in the last 20 minutes of the second half due to the pressure, but the Indians were able to clear the ball, gutting out the victory. “It was nerve-racking, and the players said the same thing — we gave them a couple set pieces in some places and that can be a game-changing situation,” Snyder said.
A game-changer for the Indians offensively so far has been Aiden Harrell, who scored off an assist from Encarnacion in the 23rd minute of the first half, his fourth straight goal in as many games. The junior is contributing a blend of ball control skills as well as scoring, both on display in Thursday’s win.
Others, too, are feeding off Harrell’s play, including Encarnacion, who has three goals on the season. Agustin Montoya Ornelas and Quincy Cooling have two goals each.
“For the most part, we’re good when we’re playing at our own pace,” Harrell said after the game. “The pace we have is on the ground, it’s low and really quick. But if we feed off the other team, sometimes it’s pretty good because if the other team scores a goal, we’re right back at it.”
Outside of the season opening loss to Delta, and the first half against Fruita last Saturday, Montrose has played with a lead, a nod the defense, and also goalkeeper Brendan Ullmann, who dove and extended to his right during Thursday’s win for a save before Fruita’s Harrison Matlock scored in the 21st minute of the first half.
Including Thursday’s tally (five saves), Ullmann now has 45 saves this season.
Montrose, 3-0 in conference play, welcomes Durango on Saturday at 2 p.m.
“I’m so excited about how much we keep growing, and that mentally tough attitude will take people a lot of places,” Snyder said. “If we can maintain that, be the aggressor and keep our heads in it even when things aren’t quite going our way, [we can] keep getting better every day.”
Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press