Crusaders reach Ravenscroft Invitational final
When scheduling for this soccer season, Grace Christian's head coach Chris Pratt knew he needed to come up with the toughest non-conference schedule possible to prepare his team for the NCISAA State Tournament.
The Crusader schedule included the 41st annual Ravenscroft Invitational because Pratt knew this tournament features some of the top teams in the state each year. This year's tournament has two defending state champions and features three hall of fame coaches.
"It's an honor to be in this tournament," said Pratt. "I just like the quality of soccer, the exposure to scouts for my guys and the way it is run."
The Crusaders opened the tournament on Thursday afternoon with a 2-0 victory over perennial NCISAA 3A power Charlotte Latin.
Charlotte Latin, led by hall of fame coach Lee Horton, has won eight of the last 12 state championships. The Crusaders didn't play as though they were impressed by past accomplishments.
The first half of play was back and forth and the game remained scoreless until the 25th minute. Victor Mondragon switched the field of play and found the head of Zach Boggs, who found Sergio Charco for a header that found the back of the net to give Grace a 1-0 lead.
The second half was much of the same with both teams creating good opportunities to score. Finally, with two minutes left, Joel Benitez lifted a corner kick to Paul Borderlon who found Salvador Leonidez breaking toward the goal. Leonidez’s score gave the Crusaders a 2-0 lead.
In the semifinals on Friday afternoon, Grace faced off against North Raleigh Christian, a team which had already beaten the Crusaders 2-0 last Friday in Raleigh.
The match began with the Crusaders applying heavy pressure and creating several scoring opportunities. At halftime, however, the score remained 0-0.
In the 60th minute, Ricky Castronedas found Leonidez who slotted the ball past the Knight keeper.
Seven minutes later, William Kerr made a terrific long throw-in to Leonidez for his second goal of the match.
NRCA scored with one minute remaining, but the Crusaders won 2-1, reaching today's championship match to be played at noon at Ravenscroft against either the hosts or Providence Day.
Senior keeper Hugo Lemus finished the two matches with nine saves, while allowing only one goal.
"I am so proud of this team," said Pratt. "Joel Benitez and Salvador Leonidez were huge for us in the midfield today. Their experience and ball control dictated the match. I, also, am proud of our back line today. They have really started to gel."