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East Ridge boys soccer: Stillwater denies Raptors a trip to state in rout

East Ridge was denied a trip to state with a 6-0 loss to Stillwater in the Section 4AA championship game.

There wasn't much East Ridge could do to slow down a determined and tenacious Stillwater Tuesday night as the Ponies ran away with the Section 4AA championship with a dominant 6-0 victory over East Ridge to secure a spot in the state tournament.

Patrick Roth scored a goal and had three assists for the second-seeded Ponies (14-1-4) and Sam Rasmussen scored twice in a minute in the second half of what turned into a rout quickly.

Roth assisted on both goals of the first half and got one of his own after Rasmussen's outburst of offense. Rasmussen made it a 3-0 game 11 minutes into the second half and struck a minute later on a spectacular left-footed volley.

No one could have envisioned it going the way it did, but not many pictured the Raptors (11-6-2) even reaching the heights they did this season.

"I didn't think we'd even make it past the first round of sections, but I was proved wrong," East Ridge junior defender Alec Tostenrud said. "It's been very rewarding with relationships and skills that we've built. The new coach has helped us greatly so it's been a great season."

With a new head coach and a group of players who barely knew each other before the start of the season, the Raptors found success with continued cohesion and improvement to rise to the Section 4AA title game.

"The development, in the years of coaching, I've never seen a team develop so much in the high school season," East Ridge head coach Anthony Bidwell said. "When you look at an eight-week season many coaches will ridicule the high school season - that it diminishes their development whereas this year I just saw tremendous growth collectively."

With just five seniors on the roster Bidwell relied on freshmen and sophomores in starting spots and their development contributed to the building of a dynamic team that pulled off two upsets to reach the championship game.

Fifth-seeded East Ridge knocked off fourth-seeded Woodbury 4-1 to open the playoffs and then followed it up with a 2-0 upset victory over No. 1-ranked and top-seeded North St. Paul in the semifinals.

"At the beginning of the season I didn't know several of the kids or their names," senior defender Merlin Erickson said. "Just to get know everyone was such a great time and to make it to where we were tonight. We didn't nearly have the performance we wanted to but I think it says a lot about the character of the kids on the team to come to where we did come."

A fast-paced first half saw Stillwater, which came into the game on 14-game unbeaten streak, grab a 2-0 lead as the Raptors struggled to remain defensively organized.

The Ponies, who defeated East Ridge 2-1 in the regular season, got a goal 10 minutes into the game from Jared Allen. Roth served in a cross that found Allen at the back post for an easy finish that put an exclamation point on a dangerous first 10 minutes from Stillwater.

The Ponies added to the lead with 12 minutes left in the half when Roman Devine finished from inside the 18-yard box on another assist from Roth.

Stillwater had eight corner kicks in the game and looked dangerous throughout the game by applying pressure against East Ridge and dispossessing it quickly. The Raptors' first corner kick came with 11 minutes left in regulation.

"They didn't play to win," Bidwell said. "They played not to lose and that's a problem, and you saw that with the backline dropping off, creating big gaps in the center of the park. They played extremely sloppy and I've never seen them play that way. Again, that's a mental piece and it's a piece you can work with development."

East Ridge's best chance came with 7 minutes left in the first half when freshman Jarrod Ranquillo ran onto a ball that got deflected off sophomore Connor Stevenson inside the 18-yard box, but the Raptors got whistled for a foul on the play and Ronquillo's shot missed the goal.

East Ridge relaxed after the first goal and started to build its attack more effectively, but the persistently quick pressure Stillwater applied made things difficult for the Raptors to overcome.

"They seemed much faster than I had seen in the previous game," Bidwell said. "That can cause problems, especially when you're playing on your heels defensively and you're playing not to lose. That's a deadly combination."