‘A dream come true:’ Ridge Point outlasts Stratford to win Region III-6A, advances to state for 1st time

A dream come true: Ridge Point outlasts Stratford to win Region III-6A, advances to state for 1st time (Copyright (c) 2022 VYPE - All rights reserved)

DEER PARK—Ridge Point girls soccer coach Evelyn Torres did not mince words after her team’s 2-0 overtime win over Stratford in the Region III-6A final Saturday at Abshier Stadium.

“It feels like a dream come true,” a teary-eyed Torres said.

Ridge Point sustaining an undefeated season (26-0-0) and booking its first trip to the state tournament next week meant a little more for the Panthers’ eighth-year head coach.

It wasn’t just about junior midfielder Charlotte Richardson’s goal on a looping hook from the right wing 75 seconds into overtime that broke a scoreless game.

It wasn’t about a fantastic defense that limited Stratford to only two shots in 100 minutes of play, led by the unyielding efforts of junior goalkeeper Molly Thompson and an impenetrable back line of freshman Emma Lovell, senior Lauren Walker, junior Taylor Vinson and junior Georgia Mulholland.

And it wasn’t even about an irrepressible attack that peppered Stratford with 18 shots, with success coming on the final two offerings.

No, winning Saturday meant so much more.

“Winning this, I don’t just see these girls. I see every girl I’ve coached here at Ridge Point,” Torres said. “They all deserve it. This means everything. This team is why I get up every day.”

Coming off a 6-0 rout of Atascocita in the previous day’s regional semifinal, Ridge Point was stymied by Stratford’s heart and grit.

The Spartans (20-4-4) committed all-out to defense, which helped them stay in the game. Junior goalkeeper Allison Zilafro was brilliant with 10 saves, many of them highlight-worthy.

“Stratford is a great team, and in the game of soccer you never know when you’re going to catch a bad string of luck,” Torres said. “We did all the right things, but it could’ve gone either way.”

But Stratford’s scheme to play defensively hindered support on the few runs it generated offensively. Eventually it was just a matter of time for Ridge Point, which had no trouble getting shots off despite Zilafro’s incredible play.

Richardson’s go-ahead strike not even 90 seconds into the first overtime was a boon for the Panthers and devastation for the Spartans.

“I just knew once I beat (the defender), I had to shoot it,” Richardson said. “We were low on time, and we had to do everything we could to get this win. We went into overtime against Seven Lakes (in the regional quarterfinal) and couldn’t get it there. I think everyone was just so relieved that we finally got a score in overtime.”

The game was still an intense nail-biter until sophomore forward Dayo Tennyson put the game away with mere minutes left in the second and final overtime, taking advantage of her speed on the right wing for a breakaway.

“We went out there very confident,” junior forward Hannah Warnken said. “We know how well we played (in the regional semifinal) as a team, and we just had to play as a team. That’s really all there is to it.”

A season that started with a lot of self-evaluation for the Panthers following last year’s abrupt ouster to Cy-Fair in the area playoffs has turned into one of declaration.

Players and coaches always knew they had what it took to get to where they are. They just had to learn a few things along the way.

For Torres, it meant adjusting some of the way she used practice time, incorporating more group-oriented exercises to build chemistry. She named seven captains instead of two, something else she had not done before, because of all the girls who were worthy of the title.

For players, it meant holding themselves accountable and looking in the mirror before concerning themselves with anyone or anything else.

“Working with a group of girls like this, you don’t get an opportunity to do that at most schools,” Warnken said. “But the key is we work so hard, day in and day out, at practice. Getting out early last year in the playoffs, we came out this season knowing we weren’t going to do that again. We’re giving it everything we’ve got.”

Torres said she has a team of girls that “really do love each other. And they love playing this game.”

It shows on the field.

“That’s all that matters sometimes,” Torres said.

So, the Panthers are bound for Georgetown.

“We have all wanted this since freshman year,” Richardson said. “Every single one of these girls have worked so hard for this moment. We’ve done everything we could, and I think everyone is just so relieved and so happy we got to this point.

“It isn’t easy. It’s so hard to get here. Every game is a battle. There’s blood, sweat and tears, but it’s so awesome when you get here.”