South whips East in SPC soccer finale

Published 12:01 am Thursday, October 27, 2022

By David Shaw

LANDIS — Talk about finishing with a purpose.

South Rowan’s playoff-bound boys soccer team looks to be next-in-line for takeoff after trouncing East Rowan, 8-0, in Wednesday night’s SPC regular-season finale.

“We’ve shown determination and grit all season,” senior midfielder Brian Diaz said, just moments after the host Raiders (14-7-1, 9-4-1) won for the seventh time in their last eight matches and locked up third place in the conference standings. “That’s something the coaches put in our heads long ago. It’s taught us to keep fighting, even when we’re down.”

Second-year South coach Timothy Hopkins enjoyed a post-game ice water bath after the Raiders capped their first winning season since 2019. They expect to secure a 3A-West state playoff berth when seedings are announced on Friday and will likely begin post-season play with a road game on Monday.

“I was actually here two years ago as an assistant and we won one game,” Hopkins said. “Then last year was my first as a head (coach) and we won six. It’s nice to see that progression, that growth. I’m real proud of our effort all year and our ability to push through.”

They pushed aside the last-place Mustangs (1-21, 0-14), who capped a season you wouldn’t wish on a tax collector. East surrendered four goals in each half, was outshot 23-3 and suffered its 17th consecutive loss. The shutout marked the eighth time they’ve rolled a gutter ball.

“At the end of the day, it’s more about having fun,” said second-year East coach Max Rohlfing. “We’re building, we’re trying to develop a better team, but we want to have fun as well.”

South was the only team wearing a smile as the match unfolded. Senior forward Martin Ramirez scored the first of his five goals early in the game’s eighth minute, when he redirected teammate Ozzy Pulido’s free kick and headed a close-range shot past East keeper Kamden Ridgell. “Just good positioning and playing with everything I’ve got,” he said after boosting his season total to 18 goals. “I’m a forward but I tricked them by first moving backward, away from the play. Then I snuck back and headed it in.”

Junior Grayson Steedley netted the first of his two goals — also on a header — midway through the first half to make it 2-0.

“I made a back-post run and Ozzy played it over,” he reported. “I tracked it down and placed it right into the front post.”

Ramirez then buried a rebound into the lower right corner and Diaz scored on a similar boomerang play, providing a 4-0 halftime advantage. South scored three times in a 15-minute span in the second half — the last when Steedley bounced a 15-yard shot from the right side that eluded Ridgell. Ramirez closed the scoring with 4:51 remaining when his doorstep pass curled about an inch over the goal line.

“It’s just a matter of putting in the work, on and off the field,” said Pulido, one of five Raiders with at least 10 goals this season. “And mentally, we always have the mindset that we’re going to win.”

Expecting to win — perhaps that’s what makes Pulido and South a dangerous matchup in the playoffs. “Ozzy really is the heart of our team,” said Hopkins. “When he plays well, they all play well. He just has that gift, that soccer IQ if you will.”

“Most games, people didn’t expect us to be anything,” added Steedley. “We were underdogs, but we’ve been playing together for a long time and have chemistry. Some days we start out slow. Today we came out quick and the scoreboard showed it.”

The Raiders won’t out-flash, out-razzle or out-dazzle anyone moving forward. But they’ll beckon that built-in grit and determination and try to hold their own against a field that promises to be challenging.

“We’re going to take on that underdog role — and I love that for our guys,” Hopkins concluded. “No one’s gonna count us as a favorite, so we’re hoping to turn some heads.”

NOTES: South recognized seven of its seniors during a halftime ceremony. … Steedley’s goals were his 15th and 16th. Diaz potted his 11th. … East’s Ridgell finished with 15 saves. Sophomore Alan Ballinas-Gutierrez made three stops as South recorded its fifth shutout. … South held a glaring, 16-1 edge in corner kicks. … The Raiders went 6-1 in the second half of its SPC season, falling only to unbeaten league champion Concord.

See photo gallery from match here