Rams win sixth Invitation title

Published 2:05 pm Monday, August 22, 2011

AHOSKIE – Six for six.

Senior forward Austin Foster, playing his first season with the Rams, nailed a penalty kick in overtime to give Ridgecroft a 4-2 edge and the win after playing to a 1-1 draw in regulation against Trinity School of Durham.

The win gave the Rams the Ridgecroft Invitational Soccer Tournament championship for the sixth year in a row.

In the consolation match, Cape Fear Christian topped Gaston Prep/KIPP Pride, 3-2.

The title match had the feel of a playoff game.  After all, it did feature two of the teams that made the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association Final Four a year ago.

After the Rams scored early for a 1-0 lead, the Lions came back to knot the game at one apiece with less than 15 seconds until halftime.  Neither team scored in the second half before penalty kicks decided the winner.

Both teams made their first two penalty attempts, but on Trinity’s third try their shot sailed over the crossbar. Drey Chrysostomou, meanwhile, nailed the Rams’ third try for a 3-2 advantage.

Then on the Lions’ fourth try, Ridgecroft goal-keeper, Jordan Harrell – who was injured at the end of the first half, but played the final 40 minutes as well as being in-goal for the penalty kicks – stepped up to make a big sprawling stop.

Foster then stepped up to bang home the winner and send the Rams and their fans into wild cheers of excitement.

“You can’t duplicate that kind of pressure in practice,” said a smiling and relieved Rams coach Aron Martin. “I’m glad we had the composure and the wherewithal to put the game away.

“One thing we discussed at halftime,” he added, “was responding to adversity.  We didn’t know if Jordan could return after the break, and I said the difference between a good team and a great team is how they respond to adversity.”

Despite the high 80-degree temperatures – which only grew hotter as the afternoon progressed – both teams had good legs in the heat at the beginning of the match.

At the 11-minute mark, on a corner kick, both teams were bunched up in front of the net and while it appeared to be an own-goal inadvertently scored for Ridgecroft by a Trinity player, the score was credited to Chrysostomou.

Ridgecroft had several other chances in the half, outshooting their opponents 13-to-four, but the Rams could not rattle the twine.

The Rams’ back line defense of Foster, Max Boone, Landon Larabee and Thomas Riddick were being tested by the Lions, but held it to a draw; and Harrell took a shot to his leg sliding to snatch a save, but played on.

Then, with the clock winding toward the halftime horn, Trinity’s Hayes Theilman raced down a kick on the left side, sidestepped a defender and rocketed a pass to teammate Samuel Fever.

Fever caught Harrell breaking left and sent a shot into the right corner of the goal and knotted the match at 1-1 just as the horn sounded and Harrell crumpled to the ground.  He received treatment at the half and returned to the pitch.

The second half was more evenly played as each team had six shots on goal.  At one point, after a hand-ball violation call, Ridgecroft got a free kick, but failed to score.

The Rams final attempt at regulation sailed wide to the right forcing the extra minutes of play that would lead to the late heroics.

“He (Foster) is quickly becoming a leader on this team,” said Martin. “You can’t rattle him mentally, he’s consistent, he’s solid and he leads by example.”

“I told our kids to walk away with confidence,” said Trinity coach Sam Jackson. “I want my keeper and the guys who missed (in overtime) to have a short memory.”

Ridgecroft (3-0) played at Durham Academy on Monday.  Their next home match is Friday against Faith Christian School of Goldsboro at 4:45 p.m.