MURRAY — All season long, the Murray Spartans have made it nearly impossible for their opponents to beat 'keeper Tanner Critchfield.
Heading into their 4A quarterfinal match against Maple Mountain, the Spartans had only allowed two goals in their last 11 matches and were riding a four-game shutout streak and a 13-game unbeaten streak.
Make it five straight shutouts and 14 games without a loss.
Murray advanced to the state semifinals with a 1-0 shutout of Maple Mountain in front of a raucous crowd at Murray City Park on Friday.
"I'm proud of them," Murray head coach Bryan DeMann said. "They've all accepted their assignments and responsibilities. They've become a family over these years. They're proud to be a part of Murray soccer and I'm proud to have them."
Murray made it hard for the Eagles to get good looks on net by constantly pressuring the Maple Mountain forwards and clearing the ball upfield. The frustration on the Eagles' players was evident as the game wore on.
"There are a whole lot of guys that keep the ball from ever getting back there (to Tanner)," DeMann said. "They scrap hard and we try and possess the ball to limit the opportunities for someone else. We're lucky to have Tanner, but he's grateful to have a bunch of guys in front of him doing a great job."
Senior Tyler Clark credited the great defense to the chemistry between the players in orange and white.
"A lot of us have been playing together for a long time," Clark said. "We keep our shape; we trust each other; and we know when to help each other. A lot of us are seniors and we've had chemistry for the longest time."
Junior midfielder Jaden Olsen put the Spartans on the board late in the first half on a high loft from near midfield. It bounced several times, and Olsen, along with 21 other players on the pitch, watched as it soared over the outstretched arms of Maple Mountain goalkeeper Spencer Young.
"We told him (Jaden) to be aggressive," DeMann said. "We told him that if he plays that ball in the air, it might take a funny bounce."
DeMann's prediction proved to be right on the money.
The ball hit the grass just outside the box, then slowed down as it made its way toward the net, and eventually in the back of it.
"That was definitely lucky, but we'll take it," Olsen said. "It was pretty crazy. It made me happy, but it was definitely lucky."
Maybe luck was on the side of Murray on Friday, because as the clock ticked toward the 80th minute, Maple Mountain finally beat Critchfield — but not the crossbar. The ball rang off the pipe after a shot from the right side of the net after the Eagles elected to pass the ball off a free kick opportunity. The strategy nearly worked.
After that close call, Murray wasn't seriously threatened and was able to secure a berth in next Tuesday's semifinal round at Woods Cross High School at 6:30 p.m.
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