Boys soccer: Cooper Stephens’ 21st goal advances Legacy in Class 5A tournament

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WESTMINSTER — Cooper Stephens wouldn’t be denied.

In Legacy’s first postseason game in two years, the junior goal-hoarder netted his 21st of the season as the seventh-seeded Lightning held off No. 26 Ralston Valley, 1-0, in the Class 5A state tournament opening round Wednesday at North Stadium.

Coming in tied for third in the classification in goals, Stephens corralled a corner in front of the net in the 52nd minute and stuck the winner among a slew of falling bodies.

He sprinted to the opposite corner in celebration. His teammates weren’t far behind.

“I think the guys played well, sticking to a plan, and ultimately the plan paid off,” said Legacy coach Tony Romano, whose team was left out of the pandemic-condensed spring playoff field despite going 7-3. “I’m proud of them.”

The pressure on net had been building from the start for Legacy. And for a while, it was to no avail.

Stephens, himself, had been a shoelace or two from breaking in the scoreboard. Peeling away from the defense for a breakaway down the far side of the field late in the first opening half, he beat keeper Parker Scott, though the ball skimmed just wide of the opposite post.

The junior had another series of nice looks early in the second, hitting the crossbar with a header on one. And prior to that, following another chance on net by him, Scott Croff was true on the putback but it quickly was ruled off as he’d collided with Scott. Scott left the game with an apparent injury.

“It was rough,” Stephens said of the missed chances. “I went out this week earlier and worked on my shots. I was trying to score a bunch today, but one was enough and it won us the game.”

Setting up the go-ahead corner, Gael Hernandez’s free kick looked good, only to be denied by a sprawled-out lunge from the Mustangs’ backup keeper, Donovan Meador. Moments later, Lucas Montera curled the set-kick into a Stephens finish.

Ralston Valley had only a few scoring threats to counter, its best coming after Stephens’ winner as Pablo Molla Tejero banged the crossbar in the 60th.

Late, it made another push. An airmailed shot over the net was as close as it got.

Legacy will host through at least another round following a season that saw the Lightning beat 10th-seeded Broomfield and top-ranked Boulder in its first half of the schedule, eventually finishing third in the Front Range League.

Next week, they’ll be back at North Stadium against down-the-road rival Broomfield. The Eagles, who beat the Lightning in extra-time in both the 2018 and ’19 postseasons, rallied to beat No. 23 Columbine, 2-1, later Wednesday night.

The 5A second round of games are slated for Nov. 2.