Titans pull away from Bears late
In a physical, fast-paced affair Thursday evening at Rifle High School, the visiting Coal Ridge Titans’ boys soccer team pulled out a 3-0 win on the road over the host Rifle Bears, backed by two goals from senior Ismael Ramirez in the second half.
Early on, the matchup between the two 3A Western Slope League foes was fast-paced and highly entertaining as both teams displayed skilled touches up and down the field. Coal Ridge quickly started the scoring chances as junior Trace Apostolik raced down the right wing and fired a shot on net that Rifle’s Alexis Lopez Jimenez knocked away to keep the game scoreless.
Coal Ridge kept up the early attack along the wings as senior Isaac Hinojos fed a through-ball to junior Kade Frees before a Rifle defender was able to force the ball out for a corner kick, setting up the Titans first shot at a set piece.
The Bears turned the set piece away, counter-attacking towards the Titan goal, where freshman Alanzo Ruiz found a streaking Caleb Opstein down the right wing. The Rifle senior fired a strong shot on net, but the shot went high over the crossbar, ending the Bears’ first scoring chance of the net.
Following Opstein’s high shot, Coal Ridge struck quickly coming back the other way as senior Jordi Serna found himself alone behind the Rifle defense following a long run down the right wing to open the scoring just under six minutes into the game.
Holding a 1-0 lead early in the game, the Titans continued to attack, while the Bears matched the tempo step-for-step in the early-season matchup.
Looking to answer Coal Ridge’s goal, Rifle pounced on a bad turnover by the Titans in their own third of the field, as Rifle senior Cesar Gutierrez found himself in the box with the ball on his foot.
The senior fired a strong strike on net, but the shot was just wide, keeping the game at 1-0 Coal Ridge.
Late in the first half Coal Ridge pushed to extend its lead before the break, mounting an attack near midfield. Possessing the ball into the attacking third, the Titans fired a shot on net that hit the left post before pounding harmlessly wide for a Rifle defender to clear it away.
With just minutes to go in the first half, Rifle forced its way into the Coal Ridge’s zone where the Bears drew a free kick from just outside of the box. The shot from Gutierrez on the free kick was fortunately stopped by Coal Ridge senior goalkeeper Adrian Hernandez, sending the two teams into the half with the Titans nursing a 1-0 lead.
“I don’t think we got to our game in the beginning,” Coal Ridge Head Coach Michael Mikalakis said. “That’s a credit to the hustle and the effort that Rifle put into it. They took us off the play and took us out of our element early in the game.”
After the brief halftime, the Titans came out seemingly recharged and started to play their style of possession soccer, which put the Bears on their heels early in the first half, leading to a quick Titan goal.
Coal Ridge senior Marcus Amaya set up a free kick from roughly 30 yards out and put the kick right on the head of Serna, who was able to direct the kick into the hands of Lopez Jimenez. Unfortunately for Rifle, Lopez Jimenez couldn’t corral the ball cleanly, allowing Ramirez to sneak behind the Rifle goalkeeper to blast home a shot for a 2-0 Titan lead.
From there it was all Titans offensively as Amaya missed just high on a few free kicks before Ramirez was able to cash in his second goal of the game off of another Amaya free kick to give the Titans a 3-0 lead with 13:30 left in the second half.
Trailing 3-0, the Bears refused to quit as Opstein put together a couple of great runs to pressure the Titan defense, while Andres Guerrero fired an impressive shot on net from about 40 yards out that Hernandez had to sky to save, preserving the shutout.
“I told the boys after the game that this one is like any game for us,” Rifle Head Coach David Romero said. “I think for us, it was a little emotional because it is a bit of a rivalry matchup because the kids know each other and play club together. But we learned tonight that we’re still young. Hopefully we’ll keep building though. I think we were right there with them tonight. If we had a few less mistakes and a few players not give up, we’re right there.”
Both of Coal Ridge’s goals in the second half came off of set pieces thanks to great execution.
“Those are things we’re really working on,” Mikalakis said. “We’ve noticed the further and further we go into the [state] tournament that you set pieces are where you win and lose games. So, I think with having two players crashing into the box on two different plays is a huge benefit for us.”
With the win, Coal Ridge improves to 2-1. Rifle falls to 0-3 with the loss.
The Titans will host Pagosa Springs, Telluride and Fountain Valley Friday night and Saturday morning for the Coal Ridge soccer tournament.
Rifle will travel to Battle Mountain Thursday afternoon for a game with the Huskies.