Titans fall to defending champion Sun Devils
Making their fifth straight state quarterfinal appearance, the Coal Ridge soccer program knew the challenge facing them with a meeting against two-time defending state champion Kent Denver. For eighty minutes, the Titans battled to a deadlock with the Sun Devils but fell in the opening minute of overtime to a 2-1 defeat.
Kent Denver senior Max Mehlman took his first touch of the extra session to blast a shot in from 25 yards out, ending the Coal Ridge upset bid and the Titans’ season.
The opening minutes set a cagey tone, as both teams battled for early possession. Jonathan Espinoza denied the first clear cut opportunity for the host Sun Devils, angling across from his center back position to block a sharp angle shot.
From there, the hosts began to build consistent pressure, hemming in the Titans inside their defensive third. In the 15th minute, Kent’s David Felman missed a free header just wide.
Seven minutes later, the Titans registered their first shot of the match, coming from a Luis Galaviz free kick.
The strike seemed to inspire the Titans. Shortly after Espinoza cleared another Kent Denver shot off the line, the Titans registered their first counterattack. With Israel Navarro breaking on the right flank, a through ball set him up on the edge of the box, drawing a diving stop from Sun Devil goalkeeper Ross Rainaldi.
Then, with the Titans building confidence with each passing minute, Coal Ridge made one of their few chances count. In the 38th minute, a beautifully weighted cross from thirty yards out found the foot of Gustavo Archilla, who deftly arced the ball over Rainaldi into the net. With the jolt, the Titans raced to the locker room with the precious 1-0 lead.
Knowing the top-seeded Sun Devils would come out firing in the second half, Coal Ridge goalkeeper Adrian Hernandez denied a shot from 12 yards out in the opening minute. However, Kent Denver pounced on a set piece chance in the 43rd minute. Markus Bosick turned a free kick that rattled off a defender and into the Titan net to knot the score and reinvigorate the hosts.
In quick succession, another Hernandez stop preserved the deadlock in the 51st minute before Felman turned a close range shot over the top. With the chance to exhale, the Titans blitzed back with chances of their own, the best of which coming through Jordi Serna. The junior snapped between two defenders only to have his shot clang off the post.
With regulation winding down and the game wide open, the Titans lined up for a free kick from 25 yards.
However, a flurry of shots failed to find net and the Titans and Sun Devils headed for overtime.
Then, 30 seconds into the extra sessions, Mehlman’s perfectly placed finish sent the home sideline into celebration and brought an abrupt end to a stout Titan effort.
Even with the disappointing conclusion, Coal Ridge head coach Michael Mikalakis felt his team battled.
“We fought hard,” said Mikalakis, “Our boys did a great job disrupting what they were trying to do.”
As for the season, which finished with a mark of 16-2-0, Mikalakis has his seniors to thank for the success, “After graduating so many players last year, this group really stepped up to get us back to this level again. I’m proud of them and their work this season.”
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Amid hundreds of cleat-footed little leaguers casually gathered along the first baseline, the glare of parents’ sunglasses deflecting the early morning sun, coach Troy Phillips began a trip down memory lane.