Logic dictated that an amazing and unlikely journey for the overachieving Hillel boys’ soccer team to the state final four would have come to an end on Friday afternoon at North Miami Stadium.
Hosting a much more accomplished Melbourne Central Catholic team boasting a pair of state championships and nine trips to the state final four in a Class 1A state semifinal, surely the Cinderella journey would come to an end.
So much for logic.
Thanks to sophomore Julian Ribak, Hillel, a small Jewish school tucked away in a corner of North Miami Beach that doesn’t even have its own practice field, survived a frantic final few minutes to win 4-3 and advance to the Class 1A state championship game.
Ribak scored three of his team’s four goals and now he and his Hurricanes teammates will travel to Melbourne High School next Friday to take on Tampa Prep.
“Absolutely unbelievable,” said Hillel coach Ben Magidson, whose team improved to 19-1-1. “I have to be honest, these kids exceeded even my expectations.”
Ribak’s first goal came two minutes into the second half to snap a 1-all tie. Hillel would hold its one-goal lead until 10 minutes remained when he scored again.
That set the stage for a frantic final four minutes and injury time in which three goals were scored. The Hustlers (17-7-1) cut it to 3-2 when Hillel was called for a hand ball in the penalty box, and even though keeper Alan Landau made a great save, Lino Troisi knocked in the rebound.
Not more than 30 seconds later, Ribak beat the MCC defense down the left side, and when Lierman overcommitted and couldn’t make it to the ball and knocked the ball over his head to make it 4-2.
That goal turned out to be huge because the Hustlers, pushing everyone up, continued to apply pressure before Josh Paul knocked one in during injury time to cut the lead to one again.
“We’ll have to work very hard this week to try and stay focused,” said team captain Daniel Furmanski, who gets up with his teammates every morning to practice at 6 a.m. “We’re probably going to be treated like rock stars in school which will be nice. We really need to try and take advantage of the opportunity that’s in front of us now and that’s to win a state championship.”
• Class 2A state semifinal — Gulliver Prep 3, Tampa Berkeley 0: Out with a hip injury, the first half of Bryan Ruiz-Unger’s senior season did not start the way he wanted. But ever since the playoffs began, the midfielder has been “on fire,” according to his coach.
On Friday, Tampa Berkeley was helpless to douse those flames as a blast off the left foot of Ruiz-Unger helped Gulliver Prep prevail in a Class 2A state semifinal.
“This was my last game here on this field [Gulliver],” said Ruiz-Unger, the Raiders’ only senior starter. “I have thought about that, but [Friday] I just focused on us as a team getting to state.”
The Raiders (19-2-3) did just that, advancing to play Jacksonville Bolles in the final Friday at 8:05 p.m. in Melbourne.
Gulliver, which won four state titles from 1992 to 2006 under Jorge Dieppa, is now one win from getting back on top in the first year under coach Matias Asorey.
The Raiders had won each of their three regional games by one goal, and Ruiz-Unger had been the difference each time. In the quarterfinals, he had the winning goal in a 3-2 win over LaSalle.
In the semifinals, he had an overtime goal that beat Ransom, 2-1. And in the regional final, he had two goals in a 3-2 win over Delray American Heritage.
Gulliver was so dominant that Berkeley goalie Ben Miliken earned praise from his coach for how well he played, despite the three goals allowed.
“If Gulliver plays like that next week,” Berkeley coach Tim Cooper said, “they will win the state title.”