Jose Ortega figures the best way to free himself from the swarming attention of opposing defenders is to feed his teammates.
Ortega helped put a point on the board for the first time this season Thursday by assisting on Caleb Sandgren’s goal, as Ozark edged Springfield Catholic 1-0.
“It’s my first assist and first of anything recorded this season,” Ortega said.
Ortega, the Class 4 District 11 Player of the Year and an All-COC First-Team selection last season, is still without a goal five matches into his senior season. He’s doing his best to patiently await that elusive first goal, while being encouraged by his teammates’ production.
The Tigers (3-1-1) have netted 10 goals going into this weekend’s Parkview Tournament.
“I’m getting a lot of attention from the best defenders,” Ortega said. “Right before the game tonight, I was telling (teammate) Renato Granja) that I know a lot of their guys and I would get a lot of their attention. But we’ve got a lot of great players.”
“Jose is going to get his chances and he has been getting chances,” coach Zack Owen said. “He’s had some great ones, but the ‘keepers have been able to reach them. He’s a smart player and has been able to find open teammates.”
Sandgren did what he does best by being in the right place at the right time at Catholic to receive a pass from Ortega and net the lone goal on the night.
“We were moving the ball up the field and I kind of got lost in a corner,” Sandgren said. “Jose drove the ball up the line, beat a few defenders and I opened up to the side for a tap-in. I had time to look up and see where I wanted to go. I slotted it in to the back post.”
“Caleb always finds a way to put himself in position and the ball falls to his foot in front of the goal or inside the 18)-yard line),” Ozark coach Zack Owens said. “He’s got good enough composure that he’s able to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Ortega likes the Tigers’ chances by getting the ball to Sandgren or Caleb Lepant.
“I look forward to making more assists with both the Calebs,” Ortega said. “I have trust in both of those guys. They both work hard and do a good job sprinting and chasing the ball around to make it easier for our midfielders to defend.”
There wasn’t anything easy for Ozark against Catholic, with the teams exchanging enough contact to draw yellow cards on both sides.
“It was very physical and we always expect it to be a very physical game against them,” Sandgren said.
Ozark has held Catholic (3-2) scoreless for 95 minutes. The teams also met in a jamboree.
“Tonight was just like the jamboree,” Sandgren said. “We left them without a shot (on goal) in 15 minutes during the jamboree. We basically did the same thing tonight.”
Owens was pleased to see his players bounce back from a 4-3 overtime loss to Neosho earlier in the week. That matchup figures to go a long way toward deciding the COC championship.
“We’ve got to hope they lose,” Ortega said.
“We didn’t want it to be that way. For us seniors, that could be the last time we play them,” Sandgren said. “But we forgot about that game and moved on.”
“We were ready for this one,” Owens said. “In the post-game huddle at Neosho, I told them, ‘It is what it is, we’ve got four more matches this week and we have to move on.’”
Ozark’s schedule in the Parkview Tournament calls for the Tigers to play Sacred Heart on Friday and meet Liberty North and Branson on Saturday.
Ozark hosts Nixa and Kickapoo next week.