Martinsville boys soccer

Martinsville's boys soccer team celebrates after winning the Region 2C championship last Thursday.

The first, of course, was being crowned region champions, the first time they’ve held that trophy since 2015.

The other benefit, though, was largely just as important. If the Bulldogs would have lost to Giles — they defeated the Spartans, 2-1, in overtime — they would have been forced to go on the road for their VHSL Class 2 state tournament opener. A road trip that would have taken them to Graham High School in Bluefield, about 130 miles and nearly 3 hours away by bus.

Instead, the unbeaten Bulldogs’ win means they will open the state tournament on Tuesday at their home-away-from-home, Smith River Sports Complex, taking on Region 2D runners-up Richlands at 6 p.m.

“First place, that’s big, plus we get to stay here,” said Martinsville Head Coach Pete Scouras. “And that’s even bigger because the teams in the first round on Tuesday are coming all the way from out west… that’s a long bus ride. We did not want that bus ride.

“And the kids, they’re really liking these red jerseys because that means you’re the home team. They committed and they said ‘we don’t want to wear white anymore coach.’”

“We get to have our fans, we don’t have to go three hours away to play another game,” said Bulldogs senior captain Wilson Bowles. “It’s awesome to have it here. We love it here too. It’s a great feeling.”

The road to the state tournament hasn’t been an easy one, though the Bulldogs have made a lot of wins look easy. Last week’s win over Giles was a stress-filled ride that saw Martinsville outshoot Giles 24-10 in regulation, with both teams ending the first 80 minutes in a 1-1 tie.

Martinsville put up shot after shot, but couldn’t find the goal, despite maintaining possession and never giving up hope. The only time in the game the Bulldogs let the Spartans have some room to breathe came right after Giles scored their lone goal 14 minutes into the second half off of a free kick. Giles looked poised to take the lead thereafter if it wasn’t for three great saves by Martinsville sophomore keeper Michael Devora.

“We were tied up with just a little bit left in the game so we couldn’t let a goal in,” Devora said. “We had to come out with this win and make it easier for us to come into the state final, which we’ve all been trying to get.

“If we’re not going to score, me and the defense have to keep them from scoring.”

“If the goalie gets a good save, it just gets us going even more. Gets the game going more intense,” said sophomore forward Khalil Travis.

Martinsville never let up, despite the two dozen near misses, which is part of why they are in this position. The Bulldogs are 20-0-2 on the year and averaging 3.77 goals, and more than a dozen shot attempts, per game.

Bulldogs players said they knew if they kept pushing Thursday like they had all season, the results would end up in their favor again.

“Our guys played their guts out,” Scouras said. “I told them before we started the overtime that if we were to have slipped this one up and lost this one it would have been the most disappointing loss, probably… in a long, long time, because we dominated the first half.

“They (Giles) got a goal and got some energy, but at halftime we should have been, not cruising, but much better off than 1-0… This is the 21st game, and only a few times have we been able to find the net with regularity. Tonight, we hit the bar 3 different times, Aidan (Self) had the one right in front, and then they get kind of a little bit, ‘When’s it going to happen?’ And thank goodness it happened finally in overtime. That was just survival right there, that’s what that was. And we survived it.”

Giles was one of two three undefeated teams coming into the Region 2C tournament. Including the loss to Martinsville, the Spartans (18-1) have just three losses in the last three seasons. The only blemish on their record last season was a loss to George Mason in the state championship game.

Another benefit to the region championship win? The Bulldogs proved they can play with anyone in the state, and gives them confidence as they move into the final eight teams.

“It feels good because we’ve been reading about them and hearing about them since like sophomore year about how they’re like the best team and pretty much nobody could beat them,” Travis said of Giles. “And we did it this year, so it feels amazing.”

The Bulldogs road won’t get any easier as they chase their state dreams. They’ll start Tuesday at 6 p.m. against Richlands, a team that comes in at 16-4. The Blue Tornado have scored 107 goals this season (5.35/game), while only allowing 16 (0.8/game).

But Martinsville has a defense that can stop the toughest of offenses, allowing just 1.22 goals per game this season.

And as far as the offense, even if they’re not making all of their shots they know what it takes to do enough to get the win.

“We’re in the elite eight,” Scouras said. “We pride ourselves on being a team that’s still playing in June, and we are.”

Cara Cooper is a sports writer for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at cara.cooper@martinsvillebulletin.com

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