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Trojans turn aside Granite Bay firepower in soccer semi

Oak Ridge advances to final against Rocklin
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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A strong counterattack was key for the Oak Ridge High soccer team as it fended off Granite Bay Wednesday night at Folsom’s Prairie City Stadium. The Trojans turned a transition chance into a corner kick and eventually into a Matt Mendoza goal in the 18th minute as they won the Sac-Joaquin Section semifinal by a 2-0 count. Granite Bay dominated the run of play for most of the match, but the early goal allowed Oak Ridge to pack in its defense and silence the Grizzlies dynamic scorers. “We made a mistake and let a ball drop on a corner kick,” said Granite Bay coach Steve Fischer. “They rammed in the rebound and then they used an old, effective soccer strategy - pack the back and play defense. It's pretty hard to score when you've got a competent team defending with nine players in the box and a goalkeeper who is playing pretty well”. Oak Ridge countered Granite Bay’s outstanding ball control and passing game with a stout defense and a well-paced transition game. Lee Barclay and Mendoza did a nice job balancing defensive support with timely runs forward. Case Donahue and Mat Dastmalchi led a strong back line, and the Trojans got outstanding play from their goalkeeper, Teddy Soloski. As the game progressed, he was peppered more and more by the Grizzlies’ attack, but nothing found its way into the net despite the constant pressure. Kendall Modiste, Connor Hallisey and Cody Giddings were responsible for numerous Granite Bay forays into scoring territory, but they could not find the range to finish. Defensively, Jonathan Beach was solid in the middle for Granite Bay, but the Grizzly defense was revamped from the outset as outside back Jordan Weber rolled an ankle during pre-game warm-ups and had to sit this one out. The defense was not a problem on this night for Granite Bay, except on that one fateful play. A fast Oak Ridge counterattack earned the Trojans a corner kick. Barclay sent the ball into the mix in front of Granite Bay keeper Jeff Mann, but the Grizzlies were unable to successfully clear the ball. Mendoza was not slow to attack as he pounced on the free ball and banged it past Mann from about five yards out. Mann made a nice play just before intermission, as he came out strong on Ryan Abelia who was free and headed for the net. The net minder slid hard and played the ball away from Abelia to allow his teammates to clear the zone and preserve the deficit at just one goal. The second half was filled with Granite Bay attempts to get inside the Oak Ridge defense, as the Trojans packed it in. Fischer sent extra players forward, even bringing Mann all the way up the field for one late corner kick, but to no avail. Soloski and his Oak Ridge teammates did not yield. “We tried moving the ball around, adding extra guys to the attack, different personnel,” Fischer said. “We had some chances, and we had a lot of set pieces, yet couldn't find the way home.” With Granite Bay pushed way up looking for a desperate goal, the Trojans scored their second goal just as the final whistle blew to end the contest. Brian Hansen nodded home a Ryan Abelia cross in the closing seconds to add one on to the final tally. The Trojans will play for the section championship at 4 p.m. Saturday against Rocklin, a 3-0 winner over Roseville in Wednesday’s other semifinal. For Granite Bay, the loss brings a highly successful season to an end, “It was a great season for us,” Fischer said. “As I was congratulating Pablo Gutierrez last night, ‘Any season you make the playoffs is a good season.’ We won our seventh league title in a short 12 seasons. We beat Davis for only the second time in our history. We advanced to the section semifinals. A great season by most programs' standards, yet we are disappointed.” This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Grizzlies, a team with few seniors that was fresh off a section title one year ago. After graduating an all-star lineup from that team, this year’s new group responded well to the challenge. “We have a relatively young team, but our seniors played extremely well for us,” Fischer said. “Jon Beach was an incredible defender, along with the quiet and always reliable Jordan Weber. Jeff Mann played well in goal. Adam Hirani was a big offensive weapon and Billy Marsden contributed some goals and a lot of energy.” That group will on, while the rest of the Grizzlies can look forward to next year and the promise of a strong returning nucleus of talent.