Mullen strikes early, holds on for 3-0 win over Coal Ridge |

Mullen strikes early, holds on for 3-0 win over Coal Ridge

Aside from a rough first 10 minutes that saw the Mullen Mustangs strike for three goals Saturday morning in New Castle, the Coal Ridge Titans boys soccer team hung tough with the 5A powerhouse, keeping them off the scoreboard for the next 70 minutes in a 3-0 loss that wrapped up a tough 3-day stretch for the 3A Titans.

Mullen scored on a corner kick, a set play, and a cross into the box in the first 10 minutes, putting the Titans on their heels, but the young Coal Ridge squad didn’t buckle and continued to fight throughout the day, led by standout junior goalkeeper Cody Connor, who turned away the Mustangs time and time again in the second half, coming up with a number of large diving saves to keep the Titans in the thick of it.

Last season the Titans dropped a 5-0 decision to Mullen on the road, but this year, thanks to Connor’s stellar play in net, it was a different game.

“Cody’s been starting since he was a freshman, and that maturity over the years has helped him make smarter decisions,” Michael Mikalakis, Coal Ridge’s veteran head coach, said after the loss. “He’s making smarter decisions overall, and he’s playing with his defense, because that communication is helping him with that success in goal. I can’t underestimate the impact he’s had on this team. He’s an unbelievable keeper; he’s tall, athletic, and he definitely does keep us in games. We’re super lucky to have a goalkeeper like him.”

Despite Connor’s strong play in goal, the Titans really couldn’t muster many chances offensively throughout the day due to the absence of senior striker Ivan Gallardo, and the speed and physicality of Mullen’s back line, led by captain Luke Elges, who turned away any chance the Titans tried to mount.

As Mullen struck early, the Titans showed a lot of maturity in settling down early and refusing to fold against the 5A power.

Junior Moises Contreras and freshman James Webber tried to put together some runs against the Mustangs, but the touches just weren’t there on the afternoon.

Trailing 3-0, the game turned into a battle at midfield for stretches, where senior Landon Stickler, junior Jack Price, sophomore Tony Ayala, and sophomore Colton Conner fought to slow the Mullen attack, while Coal Ridge’s back line of senior Dominic Centeno, senior JP Gallardo, freshman Caleb Thompson, and senior Jorge Pena turned away some strong Mullen attacks.

“We have a tough schedule, I think tougher than a lot of people,” Mikalakis said. “Our kids got a chance to see what it takes to play at this level. Barring that first 10 minutes, we rose to the occasion to play today. We were able to see where we needed to be, and we transitioned to that. These kids are competitors; we’ll get there. I feel like we’re in a good place to make a good run the rest of the season. Everybody has their opportunities, and we’re building towards ours.”

Coming out of the halftime break down 3-0, the Titans continued to battle against the Mustangs, but they just couldn’t find that one real offensive chance they needed to really get back into the game.

With about 5 minutes left, Contreras had the best chance of the day for the Titans, firing a shot from the right wing that skimmed just off the top of the crossbar that the Mullen goalkeeper didn’t have much of a shot getting to.

The loss wraps up a hard three-day stretch that saw the Titans fall to 3A power Salida on the road Thursday, 3-0, get back into town late Thursday night, and then turn around for a 10 a.m. kickoff Saturday against the Mustangs. The back-to-back losses can be tough on the Titans in the overall state standings, but Coal Ridge is using the losses as a chance to improve and build toward competing for a league championship in the tough 3A Western Slope League.

“We have a lot of kids with grit, more so than teams I’ve had in the past,” Mikalakis said. “We’re down 3-0 in the first 10 minutes, and our kids just didn’t quit; we didn’t stop. There wasn’t a single player in this group that quit out on that pitch. So, outside of those 10 minutes, it’s a 0-0 game because our kids didn’t want it to get any more than that. They played their hearts out; they have grit and determination. I think that’s going to take them to success, hopefully sooner rather than later.”

The Titans get a much-needed week off before returning to action Saturday, Sept. 28 on the road against Ridgway in the final non-league game before 3A WSL play picks up in the season’s final month.

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