May 1, 2014

Soccer roundup: Ruiz, Indians pour it on; Morris falls to Bremen

CHATSWORTH — While Murray County High School’s Jose Ruiz has racked up dozens of goals this season, the senior soccer player can do much more than score for the Indians.

In Thursday’s match against Chattahoochee County in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs, the Panthers seemed determined to make him prove it.

He did — and then he launched into a five-goal day, the last of which completed a 10-0 mercy-rule victory at Murray Field for just the second state playoff victory in program history.

“I felt like we played as a team good today,” Ruiz said. “Sometimes we don’t pass as much as we did today, but I felt like we were using our sides good and setting each other up more than we usually do. It got us the goals we needed — more than we needed, actually.”

In the match’s seventh minute, Ruiz’s free kick set up a short shot by Alejandro Ramirez for a 1-0 lead. Less than a minute later, Ruiz’s throw-in assisted a goal by Fernando Arias.

“That’s what I felt like I needed to do, because (defenders) were on me real bad,” Ruiz said. “I’d get the ball and they’d get on me and leave my teammates open, so I felt like getting them the ball and then if they’re open, they’ll just do what they do.”

Ruiz got into the scoring act on the next goal for Murray County (14-5), sending a shot over Chattahoochee County (5-7) goalkeeper Kijany Ayala, whose fingertips appeared to be grazed before the ball kissed the back of the net in the 13th minute. Ruiz added goals in the 54th and 68th minutes, converted a penalty kick in the 69th and ended the game with his final score in the last two minutes of play.

His throw-in also led to the first of two goals for fellow senior Filiberto Nuñez, who scored in the 21st and 24th minutes. Even Nuñez’s second goal got a little help from Ruiz, whose pass to Victor Bautista led to a shot from the right side that was stopped by Ayala. But the ball bounced back into the field and Nuñez sent it right back from the left.

Nuñez was glad to have Ruiz — whose season tally stands at 44 goals — on his side.

“If it wasn’t for (Ruiz), I don’t even think we’d be here — he is probably the heart of the team, if not all of it,” Nuñez said. “But of course he  holds us together like a true captain. If it wasn’t for him, we’d be gone.”

Bautista finally got a goal in the 71st minute, cleaning up in front of the net to put the Indians ahead 9-0.

Aside from a scoreless stretch of 30:18 in the middle of the match, Murray County never let up its offensive pressure on the Panthers, outshooting them 18-2 and earning five corner kicks to their one. Indians coach Marco Burgueño, who’s in his third season, said the experience of last year’s appearance in the state playoffs was beneficial even though it ended quickly as Murray County lost 3-0 to eventual semifinalist Lovett.

“That’s something I was trying to emphasize to them before the game,” Burgueño said. “You’ve been here before, last year we also had really tough competition in the first round — take this like any other game.”

Murray County also reached the state playoffs in 2001, losing 4-1 to Oconee County in the opening round of the Class 4A bracket, and 2006, when the Indians beat Habersham Central 1-0 in 4A’s first round. They later fell 6-5 on penalty kicks after tying Marist 2-2 through regulation and overtime in the second round.

The Indians, who finished second in Region 7-2A for the second straight season, advance to face either Region 8 No. 4 seed Union County or Region 6 No. 1 seed Greater Atlanta Christian in next week’s second round.

Burgueño would like to see Ruiz and the Indians keep scoring — and winning.

“That’s the plan,” Ruiz said, “just to keep trying to build and go forward.”

Roberto Zuniga made a pair of saves as he earned the shutout in goal for Murray County. Ayala finished with five saves for Chattahoochee County, which was the No. 3 seed from Region 5-2A.

Bremen boys 1, Morris Innovative 0: Playing in the state tournament for the first time, a penalty kick midway through the second half proved costly for Morris Innovative (11-6) and beneficial for the host Blue Devils (13-3-2) in the opening round of the Class 2A bracket.

“The officials called a really, really harsh penalty in the second half,” Tigers coach Ernie Dempsey said. “Two guys went up for the ball and collided and their guy fell down. It would have been a harsh penalty anywhere on the field, much less in the penalty box.”

Bremen’s conversion of the ensuing kick eventually ended the most successful season in the Tigers’ three-year history. Morris Innovative followed up records of 1-12 (2012) and 8-9 (2013) to finish with a winning mark for the first time.

Dempsey was frustrated because the Tigers had plenty of chances at Bremen, outshooting the Blue Devil 14-3 and taking “five or six really close” shots at the net.

“It’s unfortunate because we controlled the whole flow of the game,” he said. “We looked like we were playing soccer the way it’s supposed to be played.”

The Tigers lose seniors Carlos Beltran, Russell Burse, Eduardo Padilla and Oscar Reyes, but Dempsey is excited for the future.

“The bottom line is we won 11 games this year and took a lot of top-10 teams to the brink,” he said. “It’s a sad day for our seniors, but we’re going to keep pushing forward.”

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