EVANSTON — Red Devil soccer came oh, so close to achieving a team goal for the 2019 season, that of qualifying for the state tournament for the first time in school history. Facing a Star Valley Braves team who had defeated Evanston twice during the 4A West Conference run, the Red Devils and Braves finished 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime with nothing decided during the regional tournament opening round matchup. With neither team able to score in 100 minutes of competition, it came down to a shootout, as previously reported in the Herald, in which the Braves prevailed, 3-2, to earn the 1-0 victory and a spot in the state tournament, ending the season for Red Devil soccer in Casper on May 9.
For the first time in a long time, it was an all-West Conference sweep at the state tournament in Jackson, with the host team placing first with a 1-0 victory over top-ranked Thunder Basin in the title match. The Broncs faced their main rival, Star Valley, in the semifinals. That match went to a shootout, as well, with the Braves prevailing over the Broncs, 6-5, to vault themselves into the championship. The Braves, meanwhile, placed third, defeating Cheyenne East, 2-1, and the top-seed from the 4A West entering the state tournament, the Kelly Walsh Trojans, knocked off Cheyenne Central, 1-0, to win the consolation crown.
In addition, the Green River Wolves, whom Evanston tied and defeated during conference play, made it to the state tournament, while the Red Devils were just on the outside looking in. The Red Devils posted back-to-back wins over Rock Springs and Green River down the stretch but the team was without standout Ramon Rivera headed into the the final homestand against Star Valley and closing out the regular season in Jackson, along with the aforementioned opening round tilt against Star Valley at the regional tournament. So very close.
Red Devil soccer head coach Brian Richins spoke of the composition of his senior leaders as standout athletes from other sports, mentioning all-state football running back Tyus Cornia, all-conference football player and all-state wrestler, Pablo Escalante, along with members of Evanston’s first-ever state champion cross-country team in Weston Wiley and Bradshaw Haack. Wiley was the individual cross-country champion and a finalist for the Milward Simpson award, bestowed annually on the state’s best individual male and female athletes.
“Then you have guys like Angel Rodriguez who just exploded on the football scene and for us and guys like Andrik Cortez and Carter Garfias, who were kind of under the radar a bit but were both remarkable athletes for Red Devil soccer. Yes, this senior class was really a very special group,” Richins told the Herald.
“Julian Beltran came on strong for us and progressed to give us quality minutes and even our exchange students in Alfonso (Garcia-Rojo) and Ardi (Brahaj) earned their spots and rounded out that group,” Richins added.
“Yeah, we are really going to miss this senior class.”
Richins said he admired the perseverance, positive attitude and the leadership his seniors displayed during the challenging start to the season, due to the weather which forced the Red Devils to practice in a gymnasium during the beginning and through the middle part of the season. Unofficially, of the 32 practice sessions Wyoming Class 4A soccer teams are allowed throughout the course of a season, Evanston had 11 outside, and that included a trip or two to Kemmerer, to conduct an outdoor practice on a turf field, which Evanston does not have.
Richins acknowledged the extreme disadvantage Evanston endures without having a turf soccer facility and the effect it has in terms of fielding competitive teams early on, but moreover, posed the question, “Are we really giving our kids the best opportunity to succeed? I think we have the athletes to succeed and I’d like to believe we have the coaching staffs in places, too,” Richins added, alluding to how much of a difference having a turf practice facility could potentially make for the soccer programs at EHS.
Richins spoke of a camp coming up from June 25-28, with a team from Bear River High School attending, along with soccer players from Star valley and the Bridger Valley taking part. The annual alumni game, which closes out the camp on June 28, pitting next year’s Red Devil soccer team against the alumni, including this year’s graduating senior class, has become a pretty big to-do and tradition for Red Devil soccer, according to the coach. This particular senior class is really looking forward to taking it to the current underclassmen.
One very somber note with the program deals with Escalante, who suffered near life-threatening injuries on a four-wheeler accident, during an outing with some of his teammates. According to Maria Escalante, Pablo’s mother, Escalante has endured intensive facial reconstruction surgery and suffered a broken neck.
“His future, for sure, will be different,” Escalante told the Herald.
“He is a strong kid and will pull through all this but it will be a long and hard road,” she said.
Maria Escalante also shared these words on Facebook:
“Thank you for all your prayers and the outpour of love. It’s been hard to reply to all messages...but I want to take the time to give a quick update on his current state. He has sustained major injuries to his neck, back, and face. He is in high spirits but we know he has a long road ahead. We believe Heavenly Father has watched out over him and we are very blessed to have him with us. Please continue to pray for our beloved Pablo. Much love to all.”
Escalante was an all-conference selection in both football and soccer and earned all-state honors in wrestling for a second-place finish at 190 pounds at the state wrestling tournament during his senior campaign
The Herald extends our thoughts, prayers and best wishes for a speedy and full recovery to Pablo, Maria and their family and many friends.