Blue Devil Jose Ortiz, right, chases down possession of the ball during his team’s 2-2 draw with Elizabethton. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

In just its second year in existence, the Unicoi County High School men’s soccer program has shown itself to be one of the top teams in the Three Rivers Conference.

With a victory and a draw last week, the Blue Devils (9-5-1) won second place in the conference race and earned a first round bye as the second seed in this week’s District 1-A/AA tournament.

“We are thrilled with this seed,” head coach Justin Ciralsky said. “It is great recognition for the team and all their hard work. We are hoping to use this momentum to carry us through the district tournament and regional tournament.”

The Blue Devils played Elizabethton in the district semifinals on Tuesday, May 9, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. A loss ended the Blue Devils’ season; a victory qualified them for the district championship scheduled for Thursday, May 11.

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UCHS opened last week with an upset of Sullivan South – the conference’s top team. Playing in Kingsport, the Blue Devils got scores from Juan Ponce and Sam Murillo to earn the 2-1 victory.

“Our two goals were clutch,” Ciralsky said. “Jose worked hard throughout the whole game and the goalie was saving all of his shots. But, late in the game Jose was fouled in the box, and it allowed Sam Murillo to score a penalty kick for the go-ahead goal.”

The victory over the Rebels was a total team effort, the head coach said.

“Our whole team played well,” Ciralsky said. “Juan started out the scoring for us, and he played a phenomenal game. Also, Chris Andrade played very well in the midfield.”

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Despite taking a 1-0 lead in the first half, the Blue Devils couldn’t hold off Elizabethton to get a win; however, UCHS held on to get a 2-2 draw.

“Our team as a whole didn’t play very well,” Ciralsky said, “but, Christian Leon and Sam Murillo played well. Sam tied the game with about 20 minutes left and Christian made several great defensive stops to keep us in the game.”

Ortiz scored the other goal for UCHS.

The Blue Devils failed to capitalize on six chances inside the box.

“We really needed to put those in the back of the net,” Ciralsky said. “We learned the importance of doing the small things well.”

During halftime of the Elizabethton game, the senior members of the team were honored on the field.

“The seniors this year are irreplaceable,” Ciralsky said. “Their passion and love for this game is what prompted our team to start. I have known these boys for years and I will miss their leadership, their passion and their love for this game. The seniors have helped to build this program to what it is today, and our hope is to carry on their legacy by developing a winning program in the years to come. They have been a great blessing to me as a coach, and nothing would make me happier than to lead them into the state tournament.”

The Blue Devil seniors are  RJ Phillips, Carlos Delgado, Christian Leon, Samuel Murillo, Jose Ortiz, Derek Andrade, Donnie Metcalf, Tyler Whitson and Gerardo Batrez.