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Bayfield soccer beats M-CHS to grab league lead

BHS coaches saluted prior to home opener
Bayfield's Caden Ross advances the ball forward while being pressured by Montezuma-Cortez's Raul Soto during 3A Southwest League play Tuesday at BHS. The Wolverines won their home opener 6-0 over the Panthers. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

Regardless of how their trip to Kirtland Central (1-5 overall, 0-0 NMAA Dist. 1-4A) panned out on Thursday, the Bayfield Wolverines traveled at full readiness and with morale surging after a 6-0 victory on Tuesday over Montezuma-Cortez.

“I think that it’s exactly what we needed,” said sophomore Zach Hufnagel, who scored one goal and assisted on two others. “Everybody at this school, all the parents have heard that, like, we’ve been winning games away, and now we come home and win 6-0? I think it was a great showcase for our season and how it’s going to go.”

“I think our quality definitely improved,” said head coach Chris Zoltowski. “We knew that they play it deep, and we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to break their lines like … in Aztec; it was a whole different game plan for us, but they just came together and executed it.”

Zoltowski and assistant coach Zac Keeler were honored before the game for coaching their 100th regular-season contest together earlier this season (their 100th overall was in last season’s CHSAA Class 3A State Tournament against Roaring Fork).

Stepping onto the grass inside Wolverine Country Stadium following the emotional pre-match commemoration, Bayfield’s focus was tested virtually immediately.

Bayfield head boys soccer coach Chris Zoltowski, right, and assistant Zac Keeler get recognized prior to kickoff Tuesday for having worked their 100th regular-season match together earlier this season. The Wolverines then proceeded to win their home opener, 6-0 over Montezuma-Cortez in 3A Southwest League action. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

Fortunately the Wolverines passed, with senior defender Shae Railsback thwarting M-CHS freshman Koyle Martinez’s third-minute breakaway chance from behind, then heading away to safety Panther senior Raul Soto’s ensuing corner kick.

The ball quickly found its way to BHS sophomore Tauer Crotty, who then played it ahead to sophomore Ayden Casillas. At full speed, Casillas was unstoppable and slipped the ball past drawn-out goalkeeper Samson Lein for a 1-0 lead four minutes in. Crotty doubled the advantage in the 16th, finishing senior Lance Mitchell’s cross set up by Hufnagel playing a corner short to Mitchell, rather than long and near Lein’s goal box.

Railsback rang a 36-yard free kick off Lein’s crossbar in the 19th, but senior Asher Madonna was right there to knock in the rebound, increasing the lead to 3-0. And after having a strong shot tipped over the frame by Lein in the 38th, Hufnagel proceeded to serve the resulting corner to Railsback, charging to Lein’s far post, for a header and 4-0 cushion.

Still not satisfied, Bayfield (4-0-0, 2-0-0 3A Southwest) got a 40th-minute finish from Hufnagel (assisted by Mitchell) and soon went into halftime in complete command, having allowed just one off-target Panther shot attempt.

Hoping for any sort of improvement after a 10-nil loss Saturday at nonleague Rifle, Montezuma-Cortez (1-2-1, 0-1-0) managed to put two post-intermission tries on Wolverine keeper Lane Hunter, but the sophomore denied both. And after junior Ben Hoffman was given a yellow card in the 52nd minute, BHS capitalized one last time when Mitchell alertly finished off Madonna’s 53rd-minute free kick – restarting play after Hoffman’s booking, and initially batted away by Lein.

With Bayfield also keeping the pressure on by earning no fewer than eight corners, Lein was often the best weapon the Panthers had and totaled 10 saves, unofficially.

“I mean, in Aztec we … missed most of our shots, and our passes were not what they had been,” Hufnagel said, referring to BHS’ 6-0 road win over the Tigers, “but we practiced all summer … and this was what we can do. A hundred percent.”

“Lane’s really showed up … these past couple games, communicating with his team and making sure they all kept the ball out of the net,” Keeler said of BHS’ up-and-coming goalie. “Certainly we like what Lane did, but our defense and midfield were big contributors in all of that too.”

“It’s been an honor being able to coach with Keeler; he’s super knowledgeable,” Zoltowski said. “He’s the ‘ying’ to my ‘yang’ with defense, where I’m more (about) attacking, and so we have a good mix of coaching philosophies. I’ve been real fortunate to have him here this long.”

“It’s been awesome to be able to be with Chris and these kids; it’s fun to see them get excited for the games,” said Keeler. “To watch them grow season after season, from freshmen all the way up to seniors …. Chris and I have had a great journey together; it was awesome to be honored like that.”

After facing KCHS, the Wolverines will prepare for a Sept. 15 visit from 3A Tri-Peaks force Manitou Springs, which also improved to 4-0 overall on Tuesday with a 2-0 win over Alamosa (0-5, 0-1 SWL). After one round of league games, the Wolverines lead the SWL with a 2-0 mark while Alamosa and M-CHS are both 0-1.

Bayfield's Zach Hufnagel, left, controls possession along the sideline and away from Montezuma-Cortez's Koyle Martinez during 3A Southwest League play on Tuesday at BHS. The Wolverines won their home opener 6-0 over the Panthers. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)