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The Ball Stops Here - Bruin Goalie Leads Riverbank To Playoff Appearance
Service with a smile.

That's the way jovial Riverbank High goalkeeper Rafael 'Rafa' Ramirez is conducting his business this season.

He may joke, laugh and grin his way through team warm-ups, but he shows impressive poise in front of the net, which weirdly seems smaller when defended by his smallish 5 foot, nine inch, 140-pound frame.

Ramirez has allowed only five goals in 10 Trans-Valley League contests this season, with six shutouts. And his latest forced goose egg was the best of them all.

Orestimba forwards had a terrific game against Bruin defenders on Oct. 13, and peppered the Riverbank defense with 30 shots. Seven of them safely skirted outside the frame, but another 23 represented potential scores as Bruin defenders failed to stop the charge.

But Ramirez made sure that didn't matter. He stopped breakaways, snagged long shots and even stifled two-on-one scenarios. His performance dumbfounded Orestimba players and thrilled Bruin fans.

"No one was sitting down on either bench. We were all on our feet watching to see what Rafa would do next," Riverbank coach Martin Gonzales said. "About eight of those saves were just jaw-dropping ones.

"That was the best performance I have ever seen in my 23 years of coaching. He single handedly demoralized the other team."

Riverbank (8-1-1) won that game 5-0 and went on to suffer their first defeat of conference play (1-0 against Hilmar) on Oct. 18. The loss provides some extra drama this week as the Bruins close TVL action with Hughson (6-2-2) on Thursday.

Riverbank started the week just one win short of clinching the league title and played host Ripon on Tuesday, though results were not available at press time. The Bruins beat Ripon 2-0 in the first half of conference play, but tied then-unbeaten Hughson 1-1 in their next contest.

The deadlock was expected to build anticipation for Thursday's Riverbank-Hughson match at the end of league play, but the Huskies went 1-2-1 in their next four games and now trail Hilmar (8-3) in the TVL standings.

If Riverbank beats either Ripon or Hughson, they will take the league's top seed into the Division V playoffs.

There, a good seed will give Riverbank a chance to host a game before tackling the likes of MLL leader, Linden (17-4 overall) or unbeaten Golden Empire League favorite Capital Christian (15-0-3).