The way it played this season, the Ridgewood boys soccer team had no reason to be ashamed.
"You guys had a great season," coach Robert Shirmohammad declared to his dejected players after their 4-1 loss to host Tampa Jesuit in the Region V championship Tuesday.
Shirmohammad turned to Hobby Barndollar, one of the Rams' three senior captains. "You had a great year, man," he said.
Barndollar shook his head. "We could have beat that team," he said. "We could have beat that team."
Maybe it could have, but not Tuesday night. Jesuit won its fifth regional title in six years with a strong second half in which it controlled the midfield, frustrated Ridgewood's frontline and kept the Rams on the defensive.
"I think it was the way the two styles matched up," Shirmohammad said. "Their speed and their ball control confused us."
Shirmohammad said he didn't think the score was indicative of how the game went. Well, to use one of his favorite phrases, yes and no.
No, the score didn't indicate that Ridgewood held Jesuit scoreless for 53 minutes, but yes, it was a pretty good ratio of the scoring opportunities Jesuit had to the ones Ridgewood did.
Jesuit's defense wasn't about to let Ridgewood shoot from inside on freshman goalkeeper Eric Sims. So Barndollar, Dave Lundekvam, Tony DelleDonne and Jay Thompson kept firing from outside. Sims handled it.
Ridgewood's backline did likewise _ for a while. Anthony Lendino used his head to pick off crosses and lobs into the box, while Matt Pratt's tackles virtually removed the legs of Jesuit forwards.
But Jesuit came out after the break charged up and taking the game to Ridgewood. The Tigers had several chances in the early minutes, but couldn't capitalize. Jesuit forward Chris Cole had an opportunity for an easy goal that he chipped over the crossbar.
And after Jesuit's first goal, the Tigers started to penetrate consistently. Jesuit brought it down the middle and then played it wide to a speedy wing streaking down either sideline. Before a defender could get over, the wing would make the cross, and Ridgewood would need a clearance to avoid the goal. On three of the four Jesuit goals, it didn't get that clearance.
Ridgewood still has plenty of reason to be proud. The Rams were undefeated (16-0) against conference opponents this season, including three wins over rival Gulf.
They certainly won the respect of Jesuit coach Bob Bauman.
"They're a great team," Bauman said of the Rams. "I was really concerned coming into this match. I really thought we'd have to come from behind to win. Robert's a good coach and he's done a great job with this team. I know we're going to be hearing from them again."
"They were the better team tonight," Shirmohammad said. "I'd like to play them again; I think the outcome might be different. But tonight they were the best team."