LAFAYETTE — Entering their Class 4A first round playoff game with 50 goals scored, the Centaurus boys soccer team had shown time and time again this season their offense can catch fire in a hurry.
Although they'd like the flame to grow a lot brighter a lot earlier in this lose-and-season's-over portion of 2018, the Warriors once again got on a scoring tear late in a 3-2 victory over Standley Lake at CHS.
Namely, it was Fernando Ruiz that was carrying the pyrotechnics in his feet.
The soft-spoken sophomore scored all three of Centaurus's goals — all of them came in the second half — as the Warriors set up a rematch with Air Academy next week down in Colorado Springs.
"We were playing good both first and second half, but just not shooting good enough," Ruiz said after a night of fantastic finishes — eventually. "But in the fieldhouse, we just talked about how we know how to attack and how to play. If we are winning or losing, we also have to be calm and just know we can play."
Christian Nunez added two assists and Raudel Manajarez also had an assist for the hosts, which overcame two goals from Gators senior captain Tate Minch and a strong outing in goal from SLHS's Kevin Ruzicka.
Those two visiting players were largely responsible for a frustrating first half from Centaurus's perspective, with Ruzicka posting six saves in the first 40 minutes and Minch netting a lofted kick past Parker Sanchez in the 20th minute to make it 1-0.
The numbers tilted in Centaurus' favor the whole night, with CHS working for nine shots and eight corner kicks in the opening half alone. A late goal by Centaurus right before half was waived off as it had not crossed the plane before the buzzer sounded, but the Warriors believed they were close to breaking through.
And, as they have in getting to 10-5 on the season, they eventually found twine. Ruiz tied things at 1-1 with a sizzling dribble past a single defender right in front of the net in the 61st minute, and after Minch answered a little too quickly (less than 60 seconds later in the 62nd), the Warriors had to bounce back once again.
With 13:29 showing on the scoreboard, Ruiz knocked in a rebound goal off a Nunez shot to make it 2-2 — a play that originated with Manajarez's quick set-up off a foul near midfield. Finally, Ruiz completed the hat trick in the 71st minute, getting a long ball over the top from Nunez and running it in as Ruzicka tried to get out to cut it off.
The quick work paid off, Manajares said.
"We always try to play fast because we know how fast Christian and Fernando can get down there and get that ball," he said. "Every time I see them, I try to get them the ball on that because I trust them. We never gave up."
"We've been working on being positive and just working hard all the way through until the game ends, and that's what we did," Nunez said. "We kept our heads in the game."
As a No. 16 seed, the Warriors earned a trip to the Air Force Academy to take on the No. 1 seed Kadets. Air Academy ousted CHS from last year's playoffs and won a game earlier at CHS, 4-2.
Air Academy's height across the board presents a big problem, but the Warriors head in confident with their ability to create a burst.
"They won that way last time because they were big, but I think we can still do it," Ruiz said.
Centaurus 3, Standley Lake 2
At Centaurus HSStandley Lake (9-5-2) 1 1 — 2
Centaurus (10-5) 0 3 — 3
Goals (assists) —Standley Lake: Tate Minch (unassisted), 20th minute; Centaurus: Fernando Ruiz (Raudel Manajarez), 61st; Standley Lake: Minch (unassisted), 62nd; Centaurus: Ruiz (Christian Nunez) 67th.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Standley Lake: Kevin Ruzicka (80-3-8); Centaurus: Parker Sanchez (80-2-2).