Class 5A girls soccer: ThunderRidge goalkeeper Becca Winton’s masterful second-half saves clinch Grizzlies’ fourth state title

COMMERCE CITY — Before her high school career even began, Becca Winton was counted out.

At the age of 12, Winton was cut for not being tall enough. But when it mattered most, ThunderRidge’s junior goalkeeper produced a career-high nine saves, including six in the second half, as the 10th-seeded Grizzlies held on to beat No. 17 Rock Canyon, 1-0, in the Class 5A state championship Thursday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

The title is the fourth in program history and first since 2022. All-time, T-Ridge is undefeated in title games at 4-0 dating back to its first in 1999.

“(Rock Canyon) are a lot bigger than me, I’m being honest,” Winton said. “But having that confidence of playing like I’m six-foot is what brings me to the next level.”

Winton’s six saves in the final 45 minutes came as the 17th-seeded Jaguars (11-6-2) were looking to pull off another shocker after it beat three top-10 seeds en route to a final. But on Thursday, Winton stood on her head as Rock Canyon piled on the pressure late. She produced two crucial saves in the final six minutes, one coming with 50 seconds left to deny Nicki Fraser, the daughter of Colorado Rapids head coach Robin, on a header, as she stretched and denied a shot destined for the bottom left-hand corner.

The Grizzlies struck first in the 28th minute after having two big-time chances which Rock Canyon defended well. The breakthrough came as junior midfielder Reese Clem had a brilliant solo effort. She received a pass and cut inside past two Jaguar defenders and let loose a shot from 23 yards that struck the underside of the crossbar and went in to make it 1-0.

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“I’ve tried those shots every single game, they’ve all gone over (the crossbar) or at the ‘keeper,” Clem said. “I’m not left-footed, you should’ve seen my face, I was in shock.”

If Clem was shocked about her bar-down goal, she wasn’t surprised about her captain in-between the posts.

“She’s super-human, I don’t get it. She’s insane,” Clem said.

The ThunderRidge Grizzlies celebrate a 1-0 win over the Rock Canyon Jaguars for the Class 5A high school girls soccer championship at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on May 25, 2023 in Commerce City, Colorado. ThunderRidge’s goal keeper Becca Winton (0) has her arm held into the air by a teammate after the game. Winton make many key safes at the goal late in the game. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The Grizzlies walked off at halftime to thunderous applause from a large student section.

In the second half, Rock Canyon upped the pressure from the opening whistle. In the 46th minute, Fraser was able to use her speed to get by ThunderRidge defenders on the left-hand side but couldn’t find the right angle as her shot was saved. Not long after, the Grizzlies’ Isa Winton tried a long-distance effort but RCHS’ goalkeeper Jasper Lorenz got a paw to it in her own diving effort.

As the Jaguars piled on pressure, including other set-piece opportunities such as a free-kick in the 53rd minute, it seemed Rock Canyon would find an answer. The Jaguars floated balls into the box looking for their taller players, but never found an equalizer. While Rock Canyon head coach Mat Henbest said he was proud of his team’s fight, it still wasn’t enough to claim the program’s first state title.

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“Sometimes soccer’s kind of cruel that way, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. We were creating good opportunities and we showed up on a big night, but so did the ‘keeper for the other team,” Henbest said.

Henbest said it was his last game in charge of Rock Canyon. He leaves the program in good hands with three runner-up trophies in 2013, 2021 and this season.

For Winton, she never counted herself out, even when others did. But to have a masterful performance on a stage like Thursday’s? It’s something she’ll hold onto heading into next season and beyond.

“Honestly, being here is my dream,” Winton said. “I’ve always wanted to and being able to be here and do all of this is amazing.”

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