Friday’s River Bluff vs. Wando match at The Swamp was the rare sporting event that lived up to the hype.
Unbeaten Wando made the long trip to the Midlands ranked No. 1 in Class 4A boys soccer and No. 2 in the first National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s spring poll. First-year River Bluff entered the game with a 9-1 record and perched atop the state Class 3A rankings.
Wando scored in the third minute and seemingly was going to head back to the Lowcountry with a hard fought 1-0 regulation win until the Gators scored the equalizer in the 80th minute.
The Warriors eventually prevailed thanks to a 4-1 edge in the decisive penalty kick shootout.
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“It was a great match,” said River Bluff coach Phil Savitz. “We have nothing to hang our heads about. Wando has a great tradition and I think we showed them a tad too much respect early in the match. But I think we pretty much took it to them after about the 20 minute mark.”
Indeed, Wando was clearly the superior side in the opening 23 minutes, out-shooting the Gators 9-0. The Warriors converted their first scoring chance of the game when 6-foot-4 Joshua Masten scored on a header on the first corner kick chance of the match.
But the Gators finally started to dominate the scoring chances and had a 10-1 advantage on shots over the final 57 minutes of regulation. But it took a dramatic goal by Gian Ortega off a crossing pass by Sean O’Hara with time waning to force extra time.
At the end of regulation both teams had one goal, both teams had 11 shots and both teams had five keeper saves.
Wando’s Jon Milligan was the difference-maker in the shootout, making saves on two of the three River Bluff shooters. Only O’Hara found the back of the net for the Gators.
It was the second match in a row that saw River Bluff avert regulation defeat with a last minute goal. On Tuesday, a penalty kick tied the score in the Region 4-3A match with Chapin and the Gators went on to win it in OT to keep sole possession of first place.
“We’re still a work in progress, still trying to find an identity, but we are showing we have a resilient bunch of guys that play hard to the very end.” said Savitz. “I think we took a big step forward in our development this week.”