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East Ridge boys soccer: Offensive explosion leads to pair of wins

Merlin Erickson and the East Ridge boys soccer team won two games last week to improve to 8-4-1 overall on the year.

East Ridge sophomore Samuel Ruiz Plaza and senior Alec Fitts began playing together last season, but at times it looks like the two have played their whole lives together.

Fitts and Ruiz Plaza have developed into a dangerous duo in the midfield for the Raptors and they showed off their playmaking abilities Saturday in a 7-0 thumping of Tartan in Woodbury. Fitts had a goal and two assists and Ruiz Plaza had two assists in the non-conference rout.

"At practice we're always talking about how we work so well because we can read each other's movements," Fitts said. "We don't even need to think about it, it just happens."

"We get used to the runs we make," Ruiz Plaza said. "We just know how to move the ball very well. It just comes naturally."

So it was fitting that Ruiz Plaza set up Fitts first goal of the season in the second half against the Titans (0-11-3, 0-7 Classic Suburban Conference) for East Ridge (8-4-1, 3-4 Suburban East Conference) as it picked up fourth victory in five games.

"In training they're always problem solving, they're always working together," Raptors head coach Anthony Bidwell said. "They both have tremendous soccer IQs and not only that, they both really trust each other. They're both a big fan of each other, which is huge."

That clearly showed as the two put together a serious of combination plays - give-and-gos and through balls - to create a serious of dangerous opportunities.

Connor Stevenson scored two goals in the first half and Samuel Wondimu added a goal to put the Raptors up 3-0 at halftime.

Stevenson scored with 10 minutes left in the first half as East Ridge struggled to capitalize on numerous opportunities. The Raptors got plenty of shots, but often they went directly to the keeper.

But in the second half East Ridge began making more creative attacks and Fitts scored the first of four second-half goals on a feed from Ruiz Plaza.

"I thought the first half they didn't place balls in the corners and they shot right at the keeper," Bidwell said. "In the second half they played more effectively. They played balls in behind, timing balls with the right weight and finishing in the corners."

After struggling to find goals, the Raptors have 16 goals in their last five games. East Ridge had nine in its first eight games.

"We just wanted to accomplish combining in the final third and getting the ball in the back of the net," Fitts said. "We didn't exactly expect that many, but it just happened. We were all combining really well and the defense opened up."

Kris Broughton, Sergey Nelson and Zach Boerjan added goals in the second half for the Raptors, who scored all four goals in a 14 minute span.

East Ridge started the week off with a 4-0 victory against Hastings and followed that up with a 1-0 loss to Mounds View Thursday.

The Raptors will finish up the season with Cretin-Derham Hall Tuesday in Woodbury, Park Thursday in Cottage Grove and South St. Paul Saturday in Woodbury.

"All I would say moving forward is I just want the kids to understand the importance of executing when they have opportunities in the final third," Bidwell said. "If they keep that mindset and they're organized on both sides of the ball good things will happen."