Hilario Cruz Ramirez has his coach’s blessing to play positionless, roaming soccer for Hillcrest.
It’s a fitting role, as Cruz Ramirez seemed to be everywhere at once in a first-round 5A matchup with Highland on Friday, scoring a hat trick to help his team advance in a 3-2 victory.
“We don’t control how deep or how high he goes. He’s smart enough and plays at a high enough quality that we let him decide where he needs to float,” Hillcrest coach Brett Davis said. “We give him a lot of freedom in his float, and he pays off with it.”
Highland broke through first on a goalkeeping error in the 9th minute as junior Whitt Gottfredson pounced in front of Hillcrest goalkeeper Connor Poulsen, who had charged out of the net to gather the loose ball. Gottfredson won possession and slotted a low shot into the wide-open Hillcrest net to take the early 1-0 lead.
“They scored early and it was on our mistake, but credit to them. They pushed, they gave the effort that they needed to get the goal,” Davis said. “I think beyond that, we dominated a lot of the possession, we kept the ball, we pressed them high and made them have to play.”
Hillcrest kept the pressure on in the first half with a relentless pushing combination of Cruz Ramirez and junior Jose Cortez but couldn’t quite string together the final ball in the attacking third of the field until the 31st minute.
“In soccer there’s always a revenge. I’m glad we took three points and we’re on to the second round of the playoffs.” — Hilario Cruz Ramirez
Cortez stormed down the left side and played an arcing pass into the opposing end of the box, Gavin Ladle corralled and played it into a charging Cruz Ramirez’s path, and Cruz Ramirez smashed home Hillcrest’s equalizer.
Cruz Ramirez admitted he’s been dealing with a hamstring injury most of the season and has to be smart in choosing “which bases to cover.”
“You’re in front of the six, in front of the goal, it has to go in. You can’t miss those opportunities,” Cruz Ramirez said. “You have to take advantage all the time.”
On the second goal, Cruz Ramirez was again in the right place at the right time as he finished a driving low shot when the ball dropped to him 20 yards from the net in the 53rd minute.
“I mean it’s great, right? First round of the playoffs, a team we lost to twice in our home and their home,” Cruz Ramirez said. “In soccer there’s always a revenge. I’m glad we took three points and we’re on to the second round of the playoffs.”
Cruz Ramirez capped off his hat trick from the penalty spot, driving the ball past Highland’s keeper to ice the victory in the 77th minute.
Highland came alive late with a second goal from senior Ethan Greene late in stoppage time on a Cruz Ramirez midfield giveaway, but Hillcrest held on to win.
“We’ve been in the mix all along. It’s just our time to come to the maturity that we’re capable, and I think that’s what we’re doing,” Davis said. “Peaking at the right time is good.”