Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
HILLSBORO — St. Mary's looked like a state champion between the 20-yard lines. But in the box, and eventually on the scoreboard, the Crusaders were runners-up again.
Erik Ruiz headed in a corner kick in the 49th minute and Jose Flores converted a stolen throw-in into an easy goal in the 74th as Riverside completed a perfect season with a 2-0 victory over St. Mary's in the Class 3A/2A/1A boys soccer final Saturday at Liberty High School.
The win gave the Pirates (19-0) of Boardman their first-ever state title in their first championship game appearance, while St. Mary's (15-2) suffered its second straight championship game loss.
"We had our opportunities like they did at the beginning of the game and we just didn't put them away, and in a championship game that's the issue," St. Mary's coach Paul Coughlin said. "The first team to score in the playoffs — that makes a big difference. "… What makes it kind of painful is we were here last year."
St. Mary's fell to Catlin Gabel 1-0 in overtime last year.
Ruiz threaded the needle to break the scoreless tie, redirecting Jovanny Llamas' perfect corner kick high into the net in a near-post, point-blank stunner. The shot glanced off the fingertips of Crusaders' keeper Derek Reynolds, who was in perfect position but could not react in time.
"Me and (Llamas), we're already on the same page and I knew he was going to be looking for me," Ruiz said, "so I saw a guy on my left side and I just got in front of him and hit the header. I got it with my whole head."
The Crusaders, who saw their nine-game winning streak snapped, amped up their attack thereafter and were able to generate several strong pushes into the Pirates' defensive third, but came up empty each time. The most promising of those ended with midfielder Thomas Adlar charging into the box and colliding with Riverside keeper Edgar Llamas, who dug out the ball. Adlar wanted a foul but all St. Mary's got was a yellow card issued to its bench.
That was one of five yellow cards issued — three were on Riverside.
"We got a little sloppy in the attacking third," said St. Mary's center midfielder Reid Arne, who was named the Crusaders' ODS Player of the Game. "We weren't on top of it. I think the nerves got to us a little bit."
Riverside dropped back its defense after taking the lead and relied mostly on long leak outs for offense. It still managed to convert a putaway goal late when Flores crept in, stole a throw-in at about the 15 and rocketed a shot that stayed just inside the near post.
Riverside, which came into the final averaging nine goals per game, outshot St. Mary's 10-2, but just 4-2 on-goal as the majority of the game was played in the midfield.
"They were clearly a very fast, good, smart team, so I've got to give it to them," said St. Mary's Harrison Leep, one of seven seniors who will graduate off the team. "They know how to move the ball, they know how to distribute and run around. Hats off to them."
The first half was about as even as could be. Both teams generated two shots and both needed diving saves by their keeper in order to keep the game scoreless.
The Crusaders missed by a hair on their best first-half scoring opportunity in the 21st minute when midfielder Renzo Marchini took a cross and tried to cram the ball through a sliver near post. Riverside keeper Edgar Llamas snuffed it out with a turf-hugging lunge.
Riverside had its own near-miss four minutes later when Ruiz took a free kick from just outside the corner of the box. His bending laser went all the way through the St. Mary's defense before Crusaders keeper Derek Reynolds snared it.
"It was an outstanding season," Coughlin said. "Best team I've ever had. A lot of talent, a lot of heart."
"It was a great journey with all my friends, all the seniors," Arne added. "But winning was our goal, so it's a bummer."