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Bulldogs look to finish their quest
Martinsville plays in state semifinals
Martinsville’s Kyle Hathaway (center) kicks the ball between James River defenders Bradley Noel (left) and Gabe Gibson last week during the Group 2A West region championship game. Martinsville faces Riverheads today in the state semifinals at Salem High School. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Friday, June 13, 2014
By CHRIS PRIDE - Bulletin Sports Writer
For all the success Martinsville boys soccer coach Pete Scouras has had in the Piedmont District, trips to the state semifinals haven’t been frequent. He hopes that will change starting with this season’s appearance.
Martinsville faces Group 2A East region runner-up Riverheads at 1 p.m. today at Salem High School in the first semifinal. Group 2A East champ and defending Group A state champion George Mason faces James River in the other semifinal. The winners will meet at noon Saturday at Radford University.
In the past, Martinsville often was knocked out of the regional playoffs by Blacksburg before having a chance to make a state tournament run. Martinsville defeated Blacksburg in 1994 on its way to its only state title game appearance under Scouras, and then was knocked off by the Bruins in the 2003 state semifinals.
While deep runs in the playoffs for the Bulldogs’ boys soccer team have only happened once every few years, Scouras feels that with the Virginia High School League’s realignment in 2013, this season could be the first of many trips to the Spring Jubilee at Radford University.
The Bulldogs defeated James River twice this postseason, first in the Conference 38 final 4-1, and then in then 5-0 last week in the Group 2A West region championship.
Scouras said that any team advancing from the east side of the state is generally good. That, he said, won’t change the Bulldogs’ approach for today’s semifinal.
“We’re going to keep using the wings like we’ve been doing and get guys in front of the box,” he said. “Riverheads has a few fast guys up top from what I understand. I think we’ll see what we’ve been seeing the last few games ... our team just wants to play their game: get it out wide, pass well and play tight defense.”
The Bulldogs (18-5-1) are peaking at the right time, having won their last eight matches — their longest winning streak of the season. With 15 of those wins coming by shutout, Martinsville didn’t allow a goal during the regional playoffs, outscoring its opponents 9-0 after putting up a 10-0 goal differential during the Piedmont District tournament.
The latest string of wins came after Martinsville suffered a stretch of defeats in the middle of the season to Bassett and G.W.-Danville.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride this season. We’ve had our ups, our downs but we’re peaking at the right time. Hopefully we can keep it going for two more games,” senior defender Andrew Mize said.
Mize said the team’s chemistry has played a big part in how it has remained steady through some rough patches. Scouras added that the team is comprised of a bunch of “soccer nuts” who enjoy playing with one another. Mize and fellow senior Tommy O’Neil not only want to win the next two games for themselves, but said they want to win a championship for their coach.
“Pleasing (Scouras) is a big thing for us. We love to make coach happy and he loves winning, maybe more than we do,” O’Neil said.
Scoring goals has become less of a concern for Martinsville as compared to midway through the season. Sophomore Kyle Hathaway has six playoff goals. Sophomore Brandon Minter has come off the bench to provide a few goals down the stretch and junior striker Bryce Worley has also kicked into form.
“The goals have really been spread out and that’s good to see. It also helps to have a strong bench produce on the field as well,” O’Neil said.
Martinsville isn’t overlooking Riverheads, which lost to George Mason 3-2 in the Group 2A East final. The Bulldogs played teams two to four classifications higher several times this year. Though it lost twice to G.W.-Danville (4A) and Halifax County (5A), MHS beat 6A school Franklin County three times, including the finals of the district tournament.
Martinsville’s seniors and its head coach agreed the level of competition it has faced has made a difference in the postseason.
“I think playing the big school teams in our district is finally going to pay off when it needs to,” Mize said. “Hopefully it will carry us into the state championship and win in that game.”