George leads East to state title
The Cranston East Thunderbolts boys’ soccer team won the Division III state title, beating the St. Raphael Academy Saints, 1-0, at Rhode Island College on Saturday evening. East senior midfielder and sweeper, Ayodeji George, netted the game-deciding goal and earned the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
“It’s been four years of just getting knocked out and it’s about time we won one,” George said. “So, I’m really happy. Great group of guys, these guys are all my brothers for life and I’m just happy that we all got to win this.”
East’s Kerin Murillo, Gio Canales and Richmond Miamen made the All-Tournament Team. Murillo led the team during the season in both goals with 18 and assists with 21.
“I told the kids that when we got to the finals that we had an excellent season, but if we could win, it would become a memorable season,” Cranston East head coach Richard Grenier said. “So, I’m just going to say to the kids again, that it was a memorable season, and to be honest, it’s kind of sad that the season ends today, because we’ve had so much fun that I wish it could have continued.”
Coming into the finals, Grenier knew that St. Ray’s would be stingy.
“They are a very good defensive club and I knew they were going to give us fits defensively,” Grenier said. “That first 20 minutes, we really looked good. We just couldn’t finish. But, we played tough defense. Our defense was just as good as theirs and Gio was really good in net.”
East finishes the season at 17-2-1, breaking the school’s record for wins in a season and for goals scored in a season with 68. The old record was 14 wins back in 1974 with Coach Lyle Parra.
East forward Angel Lopez fired the first shot of the game, a bouncer that was scooped up by Spencer Hsu, the St. Ray’s goalkeeper, one minute into the contest. One minute later, Hsu denied a shot from Murillo, before East’s David Da Silva booted one over the net.
In the 15th minute, St. Ray’s got its first shot on net when midfielder Aaron Flynn sniped from 18 yards out, only to have it denied by Canales.
During the 19th minute, Murillo passed into the box to Miamen, but the forward’s attempt was denied by the St. Ray’s goalkeeper. Two minutes later, the pair connected again, but again, it came up short when Miamen's kick just slightly cleared the net.
St. Ray’s had chances in the 20th and 23rd minutes, but shots from Dylan Polion and Max Rodriguez sailed wide of the mark.
In the 35th minute, St. Ray’s rifled a shot from in front of the circle, but Canales raced right and knocked it away at the last moment.
The teams would head into the break scoreless.
Nine minutes into the second half, East got off a quality shot when Da Silva fired from inside the box, but it got denied by Hsu.
Not long after, Canales stopped two shots from St. Ray’s Sebastian Romero. Then, down the other end, East’s Murillo missed wide from just outside the box.
At the 61-minute mark, Sotelo used a free kick to send the ball into the box, and it deflected off a St. Ray’s player, before Ayodeji swooped in and put it into the net, giving East the 1-0 lead.
“Gabe put a really good ball into the box and it was easy at that point,” George explained. “I was just glad that I was in the position to put it away.”
“Ayodeji’s been great on free kicks all year long,” Grenier said. “He has a lot to do with this championship. He would work out with young kids in the summer, and he’s just been a special player to coach. I’ve been lucky enough to be with him for four years.”
This is the third time that Grenier has coached a team to a soccer state championship. The other two occurred when he coached Cranston West (1996) and West Warwick (2004).
“I have to admit that this one has a special place in my heart,” Grenier said. “Being able to coach and experience this feeling with my two sons (Matthew Grenier and Richard Grenier, Jr.), along with Jake Leander (former player), really makes this special.”
Leander, Matthew Grenier and Richard Grenier, Jr. were all assistant coaches for East this fall.