A lesson learned helped South Sioux City pass an early state test Wednesday night.

The Class B No. 2 Cardinals got a pair of goals from senior forward Armando Garcia, including the game-winner in the second half, for a 2-1 win over fifth-ranked Ralston in the first round.

South Sioux City advanced to Saturday’s 9 a.m. semifinal in large part by limiting the freedom of Ralston star forward Diego Gutierrez. He also scored when the two squared off to open the season.

“We felt that if we took that away from them we could match up well against them,” South Sioux coach Jose Gonzalez said. “I believe you can’t give Diego an inch of space.”

He found out why when Gutierrez, the state’s all-time leading scorer, struck for a pair of goals in a 5-2 Ralston win at midseason.

The response Wednesday was evident from the start, as Pablo Cisneros started the match following Gutierrez step for step around the field. Gonzalez said three Cardinals shared Diego duty Wednesday.

And yet Gutierrez still made an offensive impact when he drew a foul in the box and converted the penalty kick to knot the match at 1-1 in the 20th minute. It was his 35th goal of the season.

The match remained tied until the 56th minute when Garcia hustled to a ball in the box, took a touch toward goal and beat Ralston keeper Michael O’Brien for his second of the match and 17th of the year.

“He’s been doing that for us all year,” Gonzalez said. “He just knows how to put it away.”

Ralston coach John Walsh said his defense “fell asleep at the switch for three seconds, and it was over.”

It ended the career of Gutierrez and knocked out the Rams, who were making their second state tournament appearance since 2004.

“We played a quality, quality group,” Walsh said. “I refuse to let this dampen the absolutely fabulous thing they accomplished.”

For all the attention given to Gutierrez — three yellow cards were shown to players marking him in addition to the foul in the box — Gonzalez was happy to have Garcia on his side Wednesday.

“They’re different creatures,” Gonzalez said of the two scorers. “I don’t even think they’re from this planet.”

Ralston (15-8)........................1 0—1

South Sioux City (18-3)..........1 1—2

Goals: R, Diego Gutierrez; SSC, Armando Garcia 2.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.