Warriors overcome N. Guilford to claim tourney title in soccer
October 24, 2013Western Alamance High School
Story courtesy of the Burlington Times-News
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 01:08 AM.
ELON — The way Western Alamance boys’ soccer coach John Pardini described Northern Guilford, it seemingly would take a few fortunate bounces and some luck to score against the Nighthawks.
That’s exactly what happened after 86 scoreless minutes in Wednesday night’s Mid-State 3-A Conference Tournament championship.
“They’re so organized, they’re so competitive, they’re good on the ball,” Pardini said. “You really have to kind of create and hope something goes right for you to get goals against them.”
Western Alamance’s Scott Wright was the catalyst, with Sam Stafford scoring the only goal of a 1-0 victory against Northern Guilford.
With 3:40 left in the first of two 10-minute overtime periods, Wright created a turnover on Northern Guilford’s side of the field. He weaved right and threaded a pass across the box to Stafford, who got just enough to beat goalkeeper Michael Freeman.
“I saw Scott Wright, he intercepted the ball and started dribbling down the line and he crossed it,” said Stafford, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “I got it past the keeper, front post, kicked it in.”
It was a play that fits Pardini’s description of his team’s style.
“So much of our style is getting balls whipped into the box,” Pardini said. “Scott Wright plays a fantastic ball across and Sam Stafford gets it across the goalkeeper to that near-post space and flicks it past the goalie and that’s the difference.”
Western Alamance (18-2-1) staved off Northern Guilford for the next 13 minutes, with the Nighthawks creating a few nervous moments. But none of those chances materialized into shots on goal.
Holding onto that lead was a nice reprieve from the regular-season result when these teams met, which Western Alamance won 2-1 in overtime.
“There’s lots of pressure, because last time we played them we were up 1-0 in regulation. With like three minutes left, they scored, so that was going through my head the entire time,” Stafford said.
The overtime finish came after an energetic finish to regulation, with Western Alamance racking up scoring chances that excited the home crowd during the final minute.
But Northern Guilford (14-5-1) didn’t crack until overtime, when Stafford said he thought the Nighthawks had been worn down.
“The center backs didn’t get back, they were being lazy and we capitalized,” Stafford said.
In the second half and overtime periods, Western Alamance clearly was the fresher team and benefited from employing a deep bench that allowed Pardini to keep a healthy rotation on a cold and windy night.
“We’ve played a lot of games and three games in a row is a lot for the players, but we’ve played … for a lot of our games, we’ve played a lot of numbers,” Pardini said. “More so than I’ve done in years past. We’ve gotten a lot of guys in from our bench.
“It keeps our guys a little fresher, but I have to give a lot of credit to my seniors for constantly keeping us motivated and keeping our players in tune and focused.”
Northern Guilford’s first scoring chance might have been its best, which came seven minutes into the game. Shawn Markham elevated a shot over Western Alamance goalkeeper Tyler Billings before the ball rang off the crossbar.
That was the only time it remotely appeared Billings was beaten, and the junior made four saves to notch the shutout. His best save came with about 7:30 left in regulation, when Riley Zerfoss split a pair of Western Alamance defenders and fired a shot that ended up directly in Billings’ chest.
This was the first time in recent years that the Mid-State 3-A Conference has held a tournament at the end of its regular season. After beating Williams High School and Northeast Guilford to set up Wednesday’s championship, the Warriors could have been worn down.
If that was the case, it didn’t show.
“We were pretty excited. Pretty exciting to win the first (tournament championship),” Stafford said. “We were definitely fresh. We’re in pretty good shape, this team. We’re very deep, our bench is very good.”