4A boys soccer: Ridgeline's belief fuels late goal in title game

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SANDY — The impetus to Ridgeline's 4-3 victory over Murray in the 4A boys soccer state championship on Thursday came last month.

On that day, the Riverhawks saw what looked like a sure victory quickly turn into a loss. One moment, they led 3-1; seemingly the next, they were walking off the pitch after losing 4-3.

"That was a turning point for our season," head coach Richard Alexander said. "To lose that game and for us to rally around that and say that's not going to happen again, and what do we need to do to not let that happen again?"

Ridgeline found itself in an eerily similar situation on Thursday.

Led by two goals from senior Diego Vazquez — including a stunning strike from 35 yards out on a free kick — and a beautiful back heel flick into the net from senior Tate Hickman, Ridgeline had control of the match with a 3-1 lead halfway through the second half.

Then things flipped.

Murray senior Bentley Heath scored a goal to give the Spartans a lifeline, and they seized it.

Murray's pressure picked up, leading to senior Abdulmalik Shaher gaining possession in the penalty box and firing a shot into the back of the net for the equalizer.

That's when Ridgeline leaned on the lessons it had learned earlier this season — just like it had done throughout its tournament run.

In the semifinals, the Riverhawks gave up an equalizer with five minutes to go, and then found a winner with 90 seconds remaining.

They pulled off a similar feat in the championship match.

With 84 seconds left, the entire Ridgeline squad sprinted to the corner to surround junior defender Denaeyer Dean who had just put in what ended up being the championship-winning goal.

"It really makes me feel like I did something, even though I play defense, I lock down, but when I score, it's like, man, I did something," Dean said.

Something is understating it a bit.

"With what we've gone through this year and losing in these types of games. We've learned from it, we've come closer as a team, and we've got better for those experiences and shows in this game," Alexander said. "The belief didn't go away. We knew that we could come out here and have that late performance. We knew we could. We believed."

And now they are champions.

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