By Maurice Patton
COLUMBIA – Against a defensive-minded Shelbyville team that forced a draw in the final District 8-AAA regular-season contest between the two, Columbia Central converted three free kicks Thursday night to earn the district tournament title with a 3-2 win over the visiting Golden Eagles.
Victor Ramirez put the Lions ahead twice from 30-plus yards out, placing a pair of longballs between the crossbar and Shelbyville goalkeeper Jared Ramos – the last with 12:07 remaining, before the Central defense held took control for the remainder of the contest.
“We had a couple of chances, but we usually create more chances,” Ramirez said after the victory. “They shut that down, so we relied on the set pieces to get it done.”
Columbia Central (16-2-1) defeated Shelbyville 3-0 in the season-opening match for both teams, before the Golden Eagles battled to a 2-2 tie on April 29 at Lindsey Nelson Stadium – the only league blemish for the regular-season champion Lions.
“The first time, they didn’t know our game plan,” Ramirez said. “They did a good job adjusting the second time. We knew we had to come out stronger, and we did. The score line shows it.”
Shelbyville (7-6-2), the tournament’s No. 2 seed, took a 1-0 lead less than six minutes into the game as Daniel Juarez guided a shot from the left side of the box past Central goalie Dane Holley and into the right corner of the goal.
From there, the visitors’ defensive approach created issues for the Lions – negating their speed by clogging the attacking area with virtually the entire team.
“They were dropping nine in whenever we attacked,” Central coach Greg Szydlowski said. “With the style we play, they made it difficult for us to find lanes.
“They played us the way they should have played us. They attacked our back line. It wasn’t one of our better games. It wasn’t as clean a first half. Our overall play was much better in the second half. You’ve got to be precise when you play the ball in the air, and we weren’t.”
Following a couple of Holley saves that prevented Shelbyville from extending the lead, Brandon Carrascoza scored the equalizer for Central near the midpoint of the first half on a free kick after a Golden Eagle foul.
That score held up into intermission, before Ramirez put the hosts ahead 2-1 with his direct kick from about 40 yards out just six minutes into the second half.
“I just look and see where the keeper is at, and I know where to hit it,” Ramirez said.
Shelbyville managed to even the contest when Noah Carballoso punched a rebound off the left post past Holley with 17:34 to play.
“We were out of position on the first goal,” Szydlowski said. “They pressed the whole game. You’ve got to give them credit for the second goal.”
The deadlock set the stage for Ramirez’s gamewinner, following another Shelbyville foul.
“Hat’s off to them; they’ve got a lot of talent,” Golden Eagles coach Chris Fritz said. “With a guy like Ramirez, any foul can be dangerous. He can put them away.”
“You don’t want to give Vic any opportunity from a free-kick standpoint,” Szydlowski said. “He’s special. It’s not like we practice that.”
With the win, Columbia Central is set to host Stewarts Creek – which fell 2-0 to Oakland in the District 7-AAA finals – in Tuesday’s Region 4-AAA semifinal. Shelbyville will travel Tuesday to Oakland.
Courtesy photos by Buffy Holt