DRAPER — After Delta’s Victor Almanza drove the ball right through Waterford goalkeeper Ross Merrell’s hands and into the back of the net just two minutes into Friday’s 2A semifinals matchup between Delta and Waterford, Merrell knew he had to tighten up his game.
“To be honest, what it came down to was I didn’t feel ready and it was definitely a wake-up call,” Merrell said of Almanza’s early goal. “The second that goal went in, my whole view of the game changed. I lost the hype from before the game and was able to calm down, focus on the task at hand, handle the game and get the job done.”
Indeed, Merrell tightened up his game to borderline perfection and got the job done.
Merrell’s impressive play between the posts helped the Ravens storm back from an early 1-0 deficit and knock off the Rabbits, 3-1, in the 2A semifinals Friday night at Juan Diego High School.
After Almanza’s early goal, Waterford junior Tristan Broadbent and Jesse Sindelar netted back-to-back goals in a two-minute span right before the end of the first half to give the Ravens a crucial 2-1 edge and the momentum at the break.
“It was absolutely huge for us,” Waterford coach George Shirley said of his team’s two, late first-half goals. “We came out a little bit flat, and they sort of shell-shocked us. So for us to get that two-goal turnaround, it really let us know that we could play with this team.”
The momentum continued to swing in the Ravens’ favor in the second half, as an obviously frustrated Rabbits squad watched Merrell get his hands on everything and anything booted in his direction.
Waterford remained on the attack in an attempt to extend its lead while Merrell protected the posts until Jake Wilburn could drive one final dagger into the hearts of the Rabbits, who sit at 13-4-0, 9-1-0.
Wilburn drove downfield, juked a couple of defenders and punched in one final goal for the Region 2A North champs, helping the Ravens seal the 3-1 victory and championship berth.
“I have nothing but respect for Delta. They played a wonderfully, hard-fought game,” Shirley said of the win. “For us to come back from a one-goal deficit is something we’ve only had to do once this year, and it shows a lot about the players we have.”
With the win, Waterford, 15-2-0, 11-1-0, advances to the 2A championship game, where it will clash with region foe Rowland Hall. The two teams faced off twice in the regular season, with the Ravens walking away with a 1-0 victory in each of the two games.
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“They are extremely well-coached and I have a ton of respect for them and their program,” Shirley said of rival Rowland Hall. “We have played them twice this year, and I hate to have to play them a third time, because they always bring it.” Waterford and Rowland Hall are set to get underway Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Ryan Love is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communications, and has been a part-time sportswriter and scoreboarder for the Deseret News since October 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724