WOODBURY — A familiar script played out on Tuesday as the Stillwater boys’ soccer team slipped past No. 2-ranked East Ridge 1-0 in a key Suburban East Conference game at East Ridge High School.
It marked the third consecutive 1-0 victory for the 10th-ranked Ponies (6-0-0 SEC, 9-2-1), who handed the Raptors (4-1-1, 8-1-1) their first loss of the season. The win also pushed Stillwater to a five-point lead over East Ridge, Woodbury (4-1-1, 6-3-1) and Roseville (4-1-1, 6-3-3) in the conference standings.
Not only was it another one-goal victory, but it was Alex Jurcoi scoring on an assist by Nathan Purdie to produce the game-winner for the third game in a row.
“I would love to see some more goals, but I’ll take 1-0,” said Ponies coach Jake Smothers, who said it was the team’s biggest win to date with regard to the conference chase and potential section seeding. “We’re getting used to this mentality that we can close out games. There was great energy and a great atmosphere for soccer, a really good game.”
East Ridge, which won its first eight games this season before playing Roseville to a scoreless tie on Thursday, carried the play early on Tuesday but were unable to convert on some strong scoring chances.
“It was manic the first 20 minutes,” Smothers said. “They were running all over us with high press, high energy and we could not get the ball. We didn’t do a lot, but then we started to wiggle a little bit and it took us 20 minutes to bring our game up to their level and once we did that it was very fluid.”
Goalkeeper Erik Meitz made a key save on an early breakaway by the Raptors and a rebound attempt sailed over the net as the Ponies averted the early pressure.
Then with six minutes remaining in the first half, Jurcoi scored on a pass from Purdie for a 1-0 lead.
East Ridge was not deterred and hit the crossbar with a shot less than a minute later, but Meitz and the Ponies were able to finish off their seventh shutout of the season. In fact, Stillwater did not allow a shot in the second half.
“If they score there or score early, the game is completely different,” Smothers said. “They’re legitimately one of the top five teams in teh state and they play a good brand of soccer. I’m not going to say we came out flat, but we were unable to match their energy when they came out. It was a good learning experience for us and puts us in an advantageous position to win the conference and puts us in a good position for sections.”
Stillwater 1 0 — 1
East Ridge 0 0 — 0
St — 34:00 — Alex Jurcoi (Nathan Purdie)
Shots — St: 9; ER: 6.
Corner kicks — St: ; ER: .
Fouls — St: ; ER: .
Goalie saves — St: Meitz 2; ER: NA 4.
Stillwater 1, Totino-Grace 0
At Oak Park Heights, despite holding a 22-4 advantage in shots and controlling play throughout, Stillwater found the back of the net just once in Saturday’s 1-0 nonconference victory over Totino-Grace at Pony Stadium.
Alex Jurcoi took a pass from Nathan Purdie and did most of the work himself while scoring in the 25th minute.
“It was a lot of individual effort by Jurcoi,” Ponies coach Jake Smothers said.
Thanks to a stifling effort defensively — the Eagles did not muster a shot on goal — Jurcoi’s tally was all that was required as the Ponies racked up their sixth straight victory.
“We played well, we just didn’t put the ball in the net,” Smothers said. “It’s something we’re working on.”
And while Jurcoi and Purdie have been regular contributors in the scoring column, Stillwater also took advantage of some strong play from midfielder Chris Menzies and Jake Lagus, who returned from a lower back injury that has kept him out of the lineup the past few weeks.
“Chris Menzies had a really nice game at center mid for us and Jake Lagus returned at center back and really helped us out defensively,” Smothers said.
Totino-Grace 0 0 — 0
Stillwater 1 0 — 1
St — 25:00 — Alex Jurcoi (Nathan Purdie)
Shots — T-G: 4; St: 22.
Goalie saves — T-G: NA; St: Erik Meitz 0.
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at email@example.com