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It's doesn't get easier for Rams

It's been just four days since the Ridgewood boys soccer team got one of its biggest wins ever: the Rams defeated rival Gulf for the third time this season in the Class 3A, District 9 final.

The 2-1 win was another step in Ridgewood's best season since 1986, when it went 24-3 and was the Section II champion.

But now the 17-3 Rams have to get down to business: they travel to Tampa today to face Jesuit, the fourth-ranked team in the state in Class 3A, in the Region V championship.

Out of the frying pan, into the incinerator.

"They're a very good team," Ridgewood coach Robert Shirmohammad said of Jesuit. "They're very skillful and quick and they pass the ball really well. And they're very well coached. We're going to have to play at least as good, if not better than, we played against Gulf."

Jesuit looks to match up very well with Ridgewood.

Both have solid talent from front to back. Both emphasize passing ball control. Both lack one particular offensive threat, using forwards and midfielders equally in shooting.

Ridgewood has won 16 of its last 17 games. Jesuit has won 14 of its last 15. Ridgewood is ranked No. 10 in the Class 3A state poll, Jesuit No. 4.

An important difference: Ridgewood wasn't able to beat the really tough teams it played early in the year _ meaning defending 4A champion Countryside and defending 2A champ Clearwater Central Catholic. Gulf is the only ranked team the Rams beat _ but they beat it three times.

Jesuit, however, counts CCC among its victims. And Jesuit's Hillsborough County competition is for the most part stronger than Ridgewood's Pasco County foes.

Another difference: Ridgewood is bigger, but Jesuit is faster. And in soccer, the latter quality is often more important.

"What they lack in size they make up in quickness," Shirmohammad said. "That's what concerns me most: their speed."

Jesuit also brings with it the experience of a state semifinal finish last year.

On the other hand, Jesuit starts two freshmen _ and one is starting goalkeeper Eric Sims. Ridgewood has been successful against a keeper with that name: Gulf's Sims Henry, who took over for Mike Vaughn when he was injured.

Shirmohammad said controlling the midfield will be the key to the game, but there are other factors involved.

"I'm confident _ and concerned. I'm confident that we can win, but I'm concerned because they're coming off a big win. And when you come off a big win you tend to play relaxed.

"We played pretty well in the Gulf game. I thought that we played a little too much kickball at certain points, but we played pretty well."

Another important factor: the play of Tony DelleDonne, who scored the second goal in the district final.

It was the third time in as many games against Gulf that DelleDonne has scored the winning goal, so Ridgewood might be looking to put it on his foot tonight.

Dave Lundekvam did just that Friday. Lundekvam finessed his way through Gulf midfielders and defenders to head for the Buccaneers' goal as DelleDonne shadowed him down the right side. Just as Lundekvam reached the goal box, he flipped the ball to DelleDonne with the outside of his foot. Gulf goalkeeper Sims Henry anticipated the pass and went at DelleDonne, but the forward fired immediately for the goal.

The Gulf offense attacked furiously throughout the district final but was mostly frustrated by the solid Rams defense. Peter Desjardins and Jeff Starkey each had hat tricks over Springstead in the semifinals, but Ridgewood defenders Tony Lendino, Matt Pratt, Chris Hollenbaugh, and Shawn Christy weren't as accommodating.

Lendino's play at sweeper has been a high point of a very impressive defensive line _ especially on air balls. Lendino's forehead has been a Patriot missile, seeking out and destroying opponents' crosses and chips into the penalty box.

In order to beat Jesuit, Ridgewood will have to:

Respect the speed.

Play defense the way it did against Gulf: keep the offense shooting from outside.

Capitalize on Jason Thompson's crosses and corner kicks into the box. Thompson put up a perfect corner kick to the far post that Hobby Barndollar headed past Henry for the Rams' first goal Friday.

A forfeit because of an ineligible player's participation cost Ridgewood a semifinal win in the district tournament last year.

"I think (last year's forfeit) made us play twice as hard (Friday)," said Barndollar, a senior tri-captain along with Lendino and Tom Mack.

"That's all in the past," said Mack. "We're looking to the future. We want to go as far as we can."

Jesuit High is on North Himes Avenue between Hillsborough and Buffalo.

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