No. 2 Wheat Ridge girls soccer heads into 4A state quarterfinals

Wheat Ridge senior Courtney Nelson (11) attempts to save a ball from going out of play. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

LAKEWOOD — A pair of header goals, an impressive breakaway finish and another stellar defensive effort Saturday afternoon pushed Wheat Ridge into the Class 4A girls soccer state quarterfinals for the second straight year.

The No. 2-seeded Farmers got first half header goals from senior Courtney Nelson (28th minute) and junior Rylie Pachello (34th minute) to provide a 2-0 halftime lead over No. 15 Niwot.

“We’ve been able to score several times on corners and set pieces,” Wheat Ridge coach Dan Watkins said after the 3-0 victory that concluded a triplerheader of 4A playoff action at Lakewood Memorial Field. “That was big to get that second goal. It really put us in good position to control how we wanted to play the rest of the game.”

Nelson’s header edged past Niwot goalie Alexandra Colvin on the near post, while Pachello’s header was off a corner kick from junior Melissa Browne that zipped into the back of the net with authority.

“I just saw the ball coming at me. I’m always looking for headers toward corner kicks,” Pachello said. “It’s the best feeling when your head on it. It doesn’t happen that often. When it comes you have to take advantage of it.”

Wheat Ridge (15-2 record) scored the lone goal in the second half on a breakaway run by sophomore Molly Kratzer in the 52nd minute.

Wheat Ridge's Rylie Pachello, right, scored the second goal in a 3-0 win Saturday. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletic)

“The effort was by my team in getting the ball up there, I just had to get it into the back of the net,” Kratzer said. “It was all my team’s effort clearing the ball and getting it up. I just finished it.”

The Farmers’ defense did the rest holding Niwot (12-5) to just three shots on goal. It was the 10th shutout victory of the season for Wheat Ridge sophomore goalie Logan DuFord.

“I’ve never played on a team where I feel so confident in my defense,” Kratzer said. “When the ball goes back there I’m like, ‘They’ve got it.’ They are solid and they win the ball every single time.”

Next ahead for Wheat Ridge is 4A Jeffco rival and No. 7 Evergreen. The Cougars (11-6) scored four unanswered goals in the second half in their second round playoff game against Standley Lake. Evergreen took a 5-1 victory.

Wheat Ridge's Courtney Nelson (11) and Niwot's Kenzie Pasma (17) battle for header. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Jeffco has showed its depth so far in the playoffs. Valor Christian, Wheat Ridge, D’Evelyn and Evergreen make up half the remaining field heading into the state quarterfinals scheduled for Wednesday, May 17. All eight top overall seeds advances with wins Saturday.

“It’s unbelievable. We’ve kind of known since the beginning that Jeffco has quality teams,” Watkins said of 4A Jeffco teams. “Evergreen is a fantastic team with very talented players that can be very dangerous. We’ll have to be at our best. To make it deep into the playoffs you should have to be at your best to advance.”

Watkins also hit a personal milestone with the playoff win Saturday. It was his 200th career win over his 16-year stint as Wheat Ridge’s girls soccer coach. The Farmers won back-to-back 4A titles in 2009 and 2010 under Watkins.

Wheat Ridge faces rival Evergreen in the 4A quarterfinals Wednesday, May 17, at Lakewood Memorial Field. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)