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Sandy • Every soccer player remembers being taught to follow his shot when he starts playing, and that basic fundamental won Ridgeline the state championship Saturday.
Senior Alex Cruz found himself in the right place at the right time to score the golden goal in double overtime against defending state champion Juan Diego at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"I just followed up with the shot," Cruz said. "For some reason, I knew it was going to come off the keeper's hands luckily it went off the post and I was just there to finish it up."
Luke Diamond put in what seemed like a relatively harmless shot toward the Juan Diego goal, but Soaring Eagle goalkeeper Martin Kelly was unable to handle the shot cleanly. When the ball began to drop to the turf after hitting Kelly's hands, Cruz was there to side-volley the rebound into the back of the net just moments before the teams would have been preparing for penalty kicks in the Class 3A title game.
"This is one for the books," Cruz said. "We're very excited for our school to have this title."
Before Cruz's shot crowned Ridgeline champions, it seemed unlikely that the Riverhawks were going to tie the game in the second half.
After Juan Diego's Ruben Castillo scored the game's opening goal in the 44th minute, the Soaring Eagle offense began to dominate as the pace of the match seemed to hit mach-speed in the following minutes. Caden Bryan and Cruz both had good looks at goal to extend the lead, and Castillo nearly scored again when his next shot hit the crossbar. But Juan Diego was unable to capitalize.
Ridgeline's breakthrough came in the 64th minute when the Riverhawks were awarded a penalty after Andy Payne was brought down just inside the penalty box. Senior striker JC Vazquez stepped to the spot and scored on Kelly to even the score with the defending champs.
"I've been working really hard in practice on my penalties," Vazquez said. "I felt very confident on where I was going to go. I didn't change the spot where I was going to go."
Vazquez said the whole feel of the match changed after his goal.
"I think we really had [Juan Diego] on their heels, and I think that's what had us going into overtime very confident in what we do," he said. "We weren't playing to defend the goal, we were playing to win the game."
Ridgeline's coach, also named JC Vazquez, said patience was the key to dealing with Juan Diego's offensive flurry.
"We had to be disciplined and be able to counterattack because they were attacking us hard," he said. "But that was the strategy to be able to contain, to be able to be ready at the right moment. I think that we were able to capitalize on those strengths that we have."
Saturday's title was the school's second boys' team championship in the school's first year. The boys' basketball team won a state title also beating Juan Diego in the championship game.
"At the beginning of the season, we established a goal," coach Vazquez said. "At the first meeting as a group, I gave them a picture of Rio Tinto. I told them, 'I want you to put that picture in the mirror so every morning when you wake up you see that picture'. That was the goal and it came through today."
Ridgeline 2, Juan Diego 1 (2OT)
R Ridgeline wins the state championship in the school's first year.
• Ridgeline wins the season series after the two teams split their regular-season matches.
• Cruz's golden goal in double overtime is Ridgeline's only shot on goal in both overtime sessions.