Quince Orchard Advance in Playoffs with Win Against Wootton, 3-0
In front of a large and boisterous home crowd – the largest of the season – the QO boys had perhaps their most impressive all-around game of the season on Tuesday night, defeating a good Wootton team by a score of 3-0 in their first playoff game. They won with a dominating performance in the midfield, a confident and disciplined defensive effort, and goals from two of their senior co-captains, Ryan Kirk and Eli Holmstead. Kirk scored a first-half goal and Holmstead added two more in the second half to net his 20th and 21st goals of the season.
It was the second round of the state playoffs but the first playoff game for the Cougars, who received a first round bye after winning their division. Wootton reached the second round by beating Kennedy 1-0 on Friday night, but they were over matched against the Cougars. QO will play in the sectional final against Northwest at 5:45 on Thursday at Blair High School – the neutral site chosen for the sectional finals this year.
The Cougars dominated the game from the start, moving the ball crisply and precisely, maintaining a disciplined and well-organized defense, and creating a number of good chance up front. As is their style, they applied constant pressure both offensively and defensively and gave the Patriots little room to operate.
The first goal came off a corner kick in the 20th minute. Senior midfielder Alex Martinez sent a beautiful ball curving toward the far post, and senior defender Ryan Kirk headed it sharply into the back of the net to put the Cougars up 1-0. He picked a perfect time to score his second goal of the season.
Although the Patriots had only 5 shots in the first half (compared to 10 for the Cougars), two came on one possession in front of the QO net, when the Cougars failed to clear a ball in the box. Wootton got off a hard shot from close range that senior goalkeeper Scott Drazan managed to block but not control. Almost immediately he had to punch away a second hard shot that came on the rebound, but the Cougars finally cleared it to get out of trouble. It was the Patriots only real scoring opportunity of the night.
Although Drazan was not seriously challenged the rest of the night, he played another outstanding game, coming out of the box to clear long passes sent forward by the Patriots, handling back passes with confidence, and helping to keep Wootton pinned down with long goal kicks and punts and well-timed outlet passes.
The score remained 1-0 at the half, but a halftime talk from Coach Kevin Gnatiko sent the Cougars out with renewed intensity after the intermission. In the 2nd half, the QO had 12 shots, with 7 on goal, compared to just 4 shots for the Patriots, with only 1 on goal.
Just minutes into the second half, QO was awarded a free kick from 10 yards outside the left corner of the box. The QO crowd sensed that senior midfielder and free-kick specialist Alex Martinez was due for a goal, but for the 3rd time in the last 5 games, he banged a free-kick off the crossbar. Although Martinez didn’t manage to score, he worked his magic touch on the ball game. He and his fellow midfielders – primarily brothers Isaac and Samuel Zuniga – put on a passing clinic all night.
The Cougars broke through again with 14 minutes left to play, when Isaac Zuniga sent the ball forward to Holmstead about 10 yards outside the box. Holmstead, who was double-teamed all game, turned and dribbled into traffic but got just enough room to send a left-footed rolling shot toward the far post as he was falling to the ground. To the Cougar faithful, the ball appeared to roll in slow motion before it hit the inside of the far post and trickled across the goal line. The goal set off a celebration in the stands, where Holmstead’s friends in the Red Army (the QO student section) apparently knew it was his birthday. They broke into a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” to celebrate the goal.
They sang “Happy Birthday” again just four minutes later, when Holmstead’s second goal put the game out of reach. This one was a beautiful team goal, with junior forward Ricky Ruiz playing the major role. It started in the center of the field with Martinez. Ruiz made an overlapping run down the left side and Martinez sent a perfect through ball ahead of him between two Wootton players. Ruiz outraced two defenders and controlled the ball with a nice first touch. Just before the end line, he turned and sent a beautiful rolling ball between two defenders and toward the penalty spot. Holmstead timed his run perfectly and one touched it into the right side of the net to make the final score 3-0.
Ruiz had a great game. In addition to his assist, he made several creative plays, including one that brought the crowd to its feet when he dribbled through several defenders to get off a shot from just inside the box. Fellow junior forward Everest Longa also played well, especially in the first half when he combined with the Zuniga brothers and Martinez to make several long runs along the sidelines. And senior Edwin Portillo played well both up front and at midfield, despite having to play in borrowed cleats after ripping out one of his own during warmups.
The Cougars’ backline was very stout, as it has been all season. Senior co-captains and central defenders Marco Capraro and Ryan Kirk orchestrated the defense and made good decisions all night. On several Patriot counterattacks, Capraro stepped in to make perfectly timed tackles, sometimes clearing the ball but often simply dispossessing one of the Patriots and sending the ball back up field. Outside defender Bryce Sullinger used his speed to shut down the Patriot wingers, and fellow outside defenders Leo Cornacchia and Ronin Robertson played their usual solid games to get another clean sheet for the Cougars.