As soon as the final whistle blew in Tuesday night’s VHSL Class 2 boys soccer state quarterfinal game between Martinsville and Richlands, the Bulldog faithful, a crowd that filled the stands at Smith River Sports Complex, let out a cheer rarely heard at a boys soccer game.
As they’ve done every game, the Bulldogs joined as a team and ran across the field cheering, though this time the excitement was raised. Head coach Pete Scouras, who’s been at the helm of Martinsville’s soccer team for 30 years, then ran across the field ahead of his team with tears coming down his face.
The win may not have come with a trophy or a championship banner, but it was by far the Bulldogs’ biggest this season. Martinsville’s 21st win not only tied a school record for most victories in a season, but also gave the team a place in the state final four, a place they haven’t been in four years.
“These kids, nobody’s been,” Scouras said. “I’ve been, (Assistant) Coach (Matt) Rowe has been, but nobody else has.
“Back to the final four. I’m so happy for these guys. Such a good group of guys to have that experience. From now on, the rest is sort of like gravy sort of... But to make it is a shot in the arm for us. We’re the only one around here playing. Playing in June, that was our goal. It would just be awesome if we were playing in the last game, but there’s more work to do.”
The Bulldogs made it to the final four off of an unbeaten regular season in which they went 14-0-2, with the two ties coming in just the second game of the season to G.W.-Danville, and the other coming to VHSL Class 6 Franklin County.
Since the end of the regular season, Martinsville has continued to roll, running through the Piedmont District tournament to become the first team since the district grew to eight schools to go undefeated in the PD regular season and win the tournament title. In seven postseason games, including the PD and Region 2C tournaments and the state tournament opener, the Bulldogs have outscored opponents 27-8.
Their only close game came in the region championship, a 2-1 overtime win over fellow unbeaten Giles.
The Bulldogs bounced back with a decisive 4-1 victory over Richlands Tuesday night.
All of that has led to Friday's game at Radford University in the state final four.
“We’re going to Radford, and that’s really all that really matters,” Scouras said. “I’m just so happy for these guys that they get to experience the final four and that venue. It’s really neat. So I’m looking forward to them having that. They did it, they earned it, so here we go.”
While the Bulldogs veteran-led offense has gotten the bulk of the attention this season – Martinsville is scoring nearly four goals a game and has only failed to score at least three goals five times this season – it’s the defense, and goalkeeper Michael Devora that makes largely the biggest impact.
That impact was seen the most in the last two games. In last week’s region championship, with Martinsville and Giles tied at 1-1, the Spartans put up shot after shot in a huge momentum swing, and Devora, a tall sophomore, made leaping and diving saves that likely preserved the win.
Tuesday, after Richlands scored their first goal, the Blue Tornados too shifted the momentum in their favor, and again Devora shut them down.
“He kept us in the game,” Scouras said of Devora following Tuesday’s win. “All year long he’s made some really good saves. He doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, but he has proven to be a really good goalkeeper. I’m so glad to have him, and I’m so glad he’s just a sophomore.”
Both Richlands and Giles came into their contests against Martinsville averaging more than five goals a game.
The Bulldogs’ defense has allowed more than three goals just three times season. In the postseason, they’ve allowed just one goal in six of seven games.
Martinsville’s offense likes to keep pressure and put up nearly two dozen shots a game, but the confidence to take chances on the offensive end likely comes from the fact that the Bulldogs know they have a strong defense to back them up should mistakes happen.
“He’s (Devora) had a stellar season,” Scouras said. “Twenty-one games, no losses, that speaks for itself. Defense and him both, the whole team, but for the goalkeeper that should mean a lot. I hope it does for him because he deserves it.”
Martinsville’s 21 wins this season ties the 2004 team for the school record. That team was 21-0-1 before falling in the state quarterfinals, the game this year’s Bulldogs won Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs enter Friday's state semifinals with a record of 21-0-2.
“Record aside, this team has done a heck of a job,” Scouras said. “I’m just so proud of them.”
Martinsville will again face a formidable opponent in Friday's state semifinals. They’ll take on George Mason, the defending VHSL Class 2 state champions. The Mustangs have lost just six games in the last five seasons.
Mason comes into Friday's game with a 21-1-1 record. They’ve scored 139 goals (6/game) while allowing just nine this season.
The Mustangs, from Falls Church, made the state tournament as the Region B champions.
Martinsville and Mason will face off Friday at Radford University’s Cupp Stadium at 11 a.m.
The winner will move on to the state championship, taking on the winner of Giles (19-1) and Robert E. Lee (21-3) Saturday at Radford University at 9 a.m.
“Two more wins would be nice. That would be awesome,” Scouras said. “But you can’t get two without one. So we’re going to go to work, tuck our shirt tails in and see what happens. We’re going to show up to play and lay it all on the line.”