Titans mount comeback, top Timberwolves in first round
Three second-half goals propelled the No. 15-seed Coal Ridge Titans’ boys soccer team to an impressive 4-2 win Thursday afternoon in a physical affair with the visiting No. 18-seed The Pinnacle Timberwolves at “The Pasture” in New Castle on a chilly, wind-blown afternoon in the first round of the 3A Colorado High School Activities Association’s state playoffs.
Prior to the big second-half comeback, the Titans found themselves trailing 2-1 at the half thanks to first-half goals from The Pinnacle junior Raul Loya and senior captain Noel Corrales, negating a first-half strike from Coal Ridge senior Jordi Serna. In the first half the Titans found themselves playing a brand of soccer that wasn’t anything like what they’d played up to this point in the season, trying to play the ball over the top of the Timberwolves’ defense instead of possessing the ball up the field before working wide. Due to the change in playing style, the Titans struggled to mount much of an attack in the first half, which played into The Pinnacle’s hands, leading to the deficit at halftime.
Coal Ridge did have two great scoring chances near the end of the first half as senior forward Ishmael Ramirez rifled a free kick off the Timberwolves’ crossbar, while senior Marcus Amaya nearly connected on a free kick header to junior Gustavo Archila, but neither attempt found the back of the net, sending the two teams into the half with the Timberwolves in front following a physical first half.
“When we get nervous, we play a desperate style of soccer,” Coal Ridge Head Coach Michael Mikalakis said. “When that happens, we tend to play a tentative style, and that turns into balls being played over the top. The biggest thing at the half was corralling the kids, telling them they were doing a good job, playing a tough game but that we needed to play our style.”
Making a few adjustments at halftime, the Titans came out rolling in the second half. Coal Ridge got back to its style of soccer and took advantage of The Pinnacle’s unorganized defense as senior Ezequiel Vasquez knotted the game up at 2-2 just 6 1/2 minutes into the second half, taking a cross from junior Kade Frees from one side of the box to the other, where Vasquez was able to settle the cross with his chest before blasting home the shot to the near post from a tough angle, igniting the home crowd.
“We weren’t going to the ball early on, but once we saw they [Timberwolves] were going into the middle of the field on defense, we saw that we could possess the ball and then go wide,” Vasquez said. “From there we just broke them down defensively and were able to score in the second half.”
Following Vasquez’s equalizer, the Titans continued to stay hot, possessing the ball for long stretches in the second half before Amaya made it 3-2 Titans just over 22 minutes into the second half, taking a cross through the box from Serna before beating the Timberwolves’ keeper low to the near post, all but deflating The Pinnacle’s hopes in a tough environment.
As the Titans found their footing offensively and possessed the ball throughout the second half, there was very little time for the Timberwolves to mount counterattacks. A large part of the lack of an attack in the second half from the Timberwolves had to do with the stout back line of the Titans as senior Ezequiel Contreras, freshman Moises Contreras, junior Isaac Hinojos and freshman Dominic Senteno stood tall throughout the second half, keeping pressure off of junior goalkeeper Adrian Hernandez.
The Contreras brothers simply shut down one whole side of the field in the second half, but it was Hinojos who stood out not only for his defense, but his ability to move the ball back up the pitch, sparking the Titans’ attack on the afternoon.
“I am really proud of Isaac and how he played today,” Mikalakis said. “He’s floated all around for me this year, playing defense, down the wing, stopper position and so, when we ask him to step up, he just did amazing. He played tough, he played strong and he didn’t play scared. That’s what we looked for from him as a true role player on this team.”
Clinging to a 3-2 lead late in the match, the Titans mounted serious offensive pressure in hopes of cracking the Timberwolves’ code one last time, and this time it was Vasquez returning the favor to Frees as the senior found the junior forward all alone in the box, beating the keeper between his legs for the fourth and final tally of the game for the Titans in the 4-2 win.
With the first-round win over The Pinnacle, Coal Ridge advances to the second round of the 3A state playoffs, where they’ll meet up with the three-time defending state champion No. 2-seed Kent Denver Sun Devils on Halloween in Kent Denver at 4 p.m.