East Ridge goalkeeper Sam Richardson watched from the sideline last fall as his previously undefeated Raptors got booted from the state soccer tournament title chase in the semifinals.
One year later, he moved from backup to backbone. Two of his three saves thwarted golden St. Cloud Tech scoring chances Monday as East Ridge won 2-0. Ashwin Kolla and Grant Tostenrud each scored in the first half, all the offense necessary thanks to Richardson's work in goal.
"I have full faith in Sam," said Kolla, a senior who scored the first Raptors goal. "He's been awesome all year and made so many saves. We wouldn't be here without him."
Not long after Kolla's goal in the 30th minute, St. Cloud Tech seemed poised to answer. The Tigers shot a free kick into a wall of defenders. The rebound, however, should have tied the score. But Richardson batted away a rocket of a shot, sending the ball over the crossbar.
"I got in position and was just happy to save it," Richardson said.
The No. 2 seed Raptors (15-2-3) kept the momentum after halftime. Richardson came off his line and made a point-blank stop. From there, St. Cloud Tech (17-2-2) really never threatened.
"That was probably when I knew we were going to win because I was playing at my best and my whole team was helping out," Richardson said.
For veterans such as Kolla, advancing to the championship game is one half of a year-long redemption pursuit.
"Last year we were expecting to win the entire thing," he said. "This year we have unfinished business."