Evans High School goalkeeper Joey Ralph is the 2005 Columbia County News-Times Soccer Player of the Year.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Watching Evans goalkeeper Joey Ralph might remind one of the popular children's game Hungry, Hungry Hippos.
Nearly every ball shot at Ralph is gobbled up just like the marbles eaten by the hippopotamuses in the game.
"When you have a guy like Joey Ralph behind you, you don't worry about guys getting past you," said defender Chad Strader. "If someone gets by me, I have confidence that Joey will save me. He is as good as it gets back there."
Ralph, the 2005 Columbia County News-Times Boys Soccer Player of the Year, manned the net for the Knights and was a key reason that Evans had its best season in school history.
No. 5 Evans (14-6-2) made it to its first state semifinals and was ranked for the first time.
Ralph led the area with 153 saves and had six shutouts.
"Without Joey, we don't get to where we are," Evans coach Brian Killips said after the Knights lost to Woodward 3-0 in the semifinals. "He is the heart of our team and is the best keeper in the state."
The senior made spectacular save after spectacular save all season for the Knights, including a season-high 19 in a tie with No. 5 Norcross (Class AAAAA).
When the state quarterfinals match with Etowah went to penalty kicks, Ralph came up big.
Ralph stopped a shot and the Knights won on penalty kicks, 3-3 (5-4), placing them in the final four.
"I wasn't a big fan of shootouts before that game," said Killips. "But I am now with Joey as my keeper."
Opposing coaches also noticed Ralph's ability.
"He makes sure that Evans stays in every game," said Greenbrier coach Chip Warren. "He has a lot of athletic ability, and you have to get a great shot to get it past him. He is one of the best in this area in a long time."
Ralph, who will play for Georgia Southern next year, said he credits hard work and practice for the results on the field.
"I've put in a lot of time practicing, and I think it really has paid off," said Ralph. "We had a great season. It was one that we never thought we could have before the season. I am just proud to be a part of this team."
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