Martinsville and George Mason's boys soccer teams came into Friday's VHSL Class 2 state semifinal matchup with nearly identical records thanks to nearly identical playing styles.
Both the Bulldogs and Mustangs play with fast and aggressive offenses that like to put pressure and keep pressure on opposing defenses. Both teams are able to do so with strong play from big goalies who run the defense.
Both squads were equally matched on the field Friday at Radford University, and each had turns controlling Friday's game. The difference was Mason's ability to capitalize on two shot attempts – one early in the game and one late - and Martinsville's missed chances that gave the Mustangs a 2-0 win and a spot in Saturday's state championship game.
Mason came into Friday's game 20-1-1 on the year, and the defending Class 2 state champions. That experience seemed to intimidate the Bulldogs early in the game, as they had trouble against an offense just as quick as they are.
The Mustangs got on the board first with 25:44 remaining in the first half on a goal in the box by Zorhan Boston, but the early deficit actually seemed to settle Martinsville.
The Bulldogs were starting to get into the Mason defense better, until a scary moment with 6:44 remaining in the first brought Martinsville's momentum to a halt. Bulldogs senior forward Jaedyn McKinney, one of the team's leading goal scorers, slid for a loose ball and collided with the Mason goalkeeper. Unable to stand, McKinney was eventually carted off the field and transported to a local hospital with what Bulldogs head coach Pete Scouras said was a broken leg.
Even without one of their biggest offensive weapons, Martinsville was still able to keep pressure on the Mustangs defense in the second half. The Bulldogs forced Mason keeper Ishan Bhalla to make six saves on the night, and the Mustangs defense also had two non-goalie saves.
The Bulldogs' struggles came from their inability to finish shots. In the first half, McKinney lined up for a free kick that bounced off Bhalla's hands and around in the box before another a missed shot led to a non-goalie save by Mason and a change of possession. In the second half, with 8:15 remaining in the game, Martinsville again had a great chance when Reese Bell got past two Mason defenders and sent in a pass to Khalil Travis, whose shot attempt went over the goal.
“I don't know where to start. Mike (Devora), the defense. We had some chances,” Scouras said. “That was a great match. It's one of those deals where you hate somebody had to lose... These guys, it's just a special team, the seniors. All the other ones too. It's just been a special year, a special group of kids.”
Much of the reason the score stayed so close was due to the play of Martinsville keeper Michael Devora, who finished the night with 12 saves. With 16 minutes left in the second half, Devora stopped a penalty kick to keep Martinsville's deficit at one and swing the momentum in the Bulldogs favor as the bench and crowd went wild.
“I was just excited. It gave us a little bit more momentum,” Devora said of the PK save. “I had to help out the team.
“We put our hearts out there and gave it all we had one last time. It's sad we didn't come out with the win but we're just happy we played our best. Probably the best game we've played all season. We just didn't come out with the win.”
The only other goal in the game came in stoppage time of the second half off a corner kick by Mason.
Martinsville finishes the season 21-1-2, tied for the most wins in a single season in program history. They'll graduate eight seniors from this season's squad – Bell, McKinney, Travis, Kevin Argueta, Wilson Bowles, Jose Hairston, Tyler Lawless, and Aidan Self.
“They'll do well in whatever they choose to do,” Scouras said of the seniors. “By what they showed today, I don't think there's any way that can be doubted. If they put that effort out in whatever they do in life... they're going to come out winners. And they are. Even with the loss, still in our book they're all winners. They can't have one ounce of shame from that game.”
Mason will take on Robert E. Lee on Saturday morning at Radford for the state championship.
This season is Mason's last in Class 2, as they'll move up to Class 3 in the fall.
“Truth be told they're probably happy, they don't want to see us,” Scouras said with a laugh. “I got high praise from their coaching staff, and as a team when you've got a high quality coaching staff like that giving our guys high praises and high marks, that makes the sting a little bit less. But it still hurts.
“The seniors, good luck to them, they're going to be fine. The younger guys, I hope they got a taste of what it's like with the crowd and the noise and the excitement. I hope we can go on and do that again. But I hope they also realize that I doesn't just come easy. You have to work, roll up your sleeves and go at it.”