Friday’s rematch between Piedmont District heavyweights Bassett and Martinsville followed the same script as the original.
The Bulldogs drew first blood with an early goal, the Bengals scored twice in the second half to surge into the lead, and Bassett then held off a furious rally to come away with a one-goal win.
The difference? This time, there was no controversy, no was-it-or-wasn’t-it-a-goal moment and no doubt about which team deserved to win.
“Those (Bassett) kids, they don’t give up, they play hard, they fight to the end,” Martinsville coach Pete Scouras said. “They just came up a little bit better again. ... They’re the best in the district right now.”
Two booming goals from distance four minutes apart put Bassett (11-0-1, 6-0 Piedmont District) up for good in a 2-1 victory — its ninth in a row over Martinsville (8-3, 3-2 PD) — and also sent the Bengals to the doorstep of their third straight Piedmont District title.
The Bengals need only a tie in one of their two remaining games against Magna Vista and Tunstall to clinch the district crown, and Bassett already has beaten those two teams by a combined score of 9-0 this season.
The Bulldogs finish their PD schedule with two games against Tunstall and another against Magna Vista, and they now will need to win out while Bassett loses its final two games in order to claim a share of the district title.
But before getting too far ahead of themselves, the Bengals were content Friday simply to soak in the moment.
“This feeling, this is the best feeling in the world, coming back from 1-0, especially at Martinsville,” Bassett keeper Bill Ison said. “Probably the most exciting game we’ve had all season.”
Martinsville dominated possession in the opening 20 minutes, putting four shots on goal to Bassett’s zero — including a goal from point-blank range by Bryson Collins in the game’s 11th minute. Bassett’s midfield and back line settled in after the early onslaught, but the Bulldogs continued to apply pressure in spurts before the two teams regrouped at halftime.
Once the ball dropped in the second half, however, it was all Bengals.
Bassett opened up the final 40 minutes with a flurry of shots and crosses toward Martinsville keeper Brian Anderson, and senior Zach Atwood finally broke through in the 59th minute on a free kick from about 23 yards out.
Atwood — who had hit the post earlier in the half — sent a soaring ball to the far post from the right-hand side on the box, and Anderson couldn’t parry it away before it found the back of the net.
“My long ones I’d been messing up all night. I hadn’t been putting them on frame like (Bassett head coach Larry Wylie) wanted me to,” Atwood said. “He told me to shoot, so I shot it.”
Bassett didn’t have to wait very long for its game winner, as four minutes later, midfielder James Craig found himself all alone with the ball at the top of the box.
Anderson barely had time to get his hands up before Craig’s blast blistered through them and into the net, and just like that, a one-goal deficit turned into a one-goal lead for the Bengals.
“I was thinking, ‘Just don’t sail it.’ ... because I knew he was going to hammer it,” Wylie said. “As soon as he hit it, I knew it wasn’t sailing because I heard the dead thud and saw it knuckling, and I knew it was in the back of the net.”
Wylie said the Bengals got back into the match after their sluggish start by getting a little more aggressive defensively, especially against Martinsville captains Zach Corcoran and Garrett Van Nutt.
Wylie wanted to limit the space the Bulldogs’ offensive playmakers had on the Bassett side of the field, which meant getting in between them and the goal as much as possible and adding a little physicality.
It worked. After Corcoran burned the Bengals down the flanks repeatedly during the first half, Atwood and the rest of the Bassett defense were able to dislodge him from the ball consistently in the second.
“I didn’t really make any changes. I reiterated what we had done the last two days in training, and it was get in somebody’s hip pocket,” Wylie said. “In the second half, what we really talked about was marking up ... not giving them clean looks at the net.”
The Bengals used that defensive success to transition into their offensive sets, and Martinsville’s offensive chances in the second half were few and far between. The two teams tied each other with six shots on goal, but Bassett had five in the final 40 minutes to the Bulldogs’ one.
Despite its struggles, Martinsville nearly snuck in an equalizer with two minutes to play when Van Nutt made a run through the Bengals’ back line, and he even dribbled the ball past a diving Ison.
But Van Nutt’s move put him too far to the left of goal to get off a direct shot, so he decided to cross it back toward a Martinsville player in front of goal.
The pass sailed too high, however, and the ball fell harmlessly on the other side of the Bengals’ goal box.
“I got too excited and just mishit it. I was trying to play it back across the goal, but I guess a little touch in might have done something,” Van Nutt said. “But we worked our butts off; we worked hard all the way through. It killed me inside to let my team down like that.”
While the game grew more and more chippy as the second half progressed, there were no incidents as controversial — or as game-changing — as the play that defined the first meeting.
In Bassett’s 3-2 win over Martinsville on April 24, an apparent Anderson save was ruled a goal after the referee said he backed into the goal with the ball. Martinsville’s players on the field immediately protested the call, and Scouras sought out the referee afterward for an explanation.
Martinsville and Bassett could meet again in the Piedmont District tournament, but Scouras wasn’t thinking about revenge as he walked off the field.
After taking in a game in which he said his guys played their hearts out, he was left wondering what it’s going to take for the Bulldogs to finally get on the right side of the scoreboard against their rival.
“Two finishes to one finish,” Scouras said. “I don’t know what else to say.”
B 0 2 — 2
M 1 0 — 1
10:08 — Bryson Collins goal (Zach Corcoran assist)
58:18 — Zach Atwood goal (free kick)
62:12 — James Craig goal (Jake Sharpe assist)