River Bluff boys soccer coach Phil Savitz has been around long enough to understand that the playoffs offer a new challenge, especially for a school in its second year of existence.
The Gators also have the challenge of moving from Class 3A last season to Class 4A this year.
The 35-year coaching veteran has seen this team meet one obstacle after another in finishing the regular season ranked No. 2 in the state and finishing unbeaten in Region 5-4A.
That carried over in the opening round of the Class 4A playoffs with a methodical 2-0 victory over out-manned Carolina Forest (6-13-3) on Tuesday night.
“The first round is always kind of an interesting contest,” Savitz said. “You just never know exactly what you’re going to get out of kids, and you’re seeing teams that we’ve never seen before. I would say we were not as sharp offensively, but we only gave up one shot on the night. We weren’t as crisp offensively as we can be and need to be moving forward.
“But it’s a shutout, and you move on, so it’s nice to put it in the books.”
River Bluff (19-2-1) dominated in total shots on goal and played the majority of the contest in the Carolina Forest end.
The Gators finished with a 30-1 advantage on shots on goal as they peppered Panthers goalkeeper Bryce Garrell from the outset. He allowed two to slip past.
“Their keeper was very athletic,” Savitz said, “and, to his credit, he kept a bunch of them out the net that could have found there way in.”
River Bluff struck first in the 16th minute with a goal from Sean O’Hara. The junior received a nice pass from Hampton Scott and finished with a shot into the left corner of the net.
The Gators struck again in the 33rd minute when Caldwell Loftis and O’Hara assisted on a goal by Russell Hammond.
The teams played to a stalemate in the second half, with the Panthers’ only shot on goal coming in the closing minutes.
But moving forward where the competition will get stronger in each round, the Gators have a coach who knows what to expect.
Savitz owns a state record 14 state championships while coach at Irmo. He has amassed 23 state final appearances in his 35 years as a head coach. River Bluff made it to the semifinals last season before losing to Eastside.
“The thing about this team is every challenge that has been put in front of them, for such a new program, they have been eager to be challenged and have accepted every challenge with great passion and energy,” Savitz said. “To this point, any challenge they’ve faced, they’ve found a way. I think we have great leadership and a passionate group of individuals that love a challenge.”
River Bluff will host James Island, a 3-1 winner over Ashley Ridge, in the second round on Thursday night. Savitz said with the short turnaround, his team will fine-tune things in practice Wednesday before returning to the pitch in under 48 hours.
“We had someone at James Island, and they will tell us some things they do well and maybe some things they don’t do particularly well, and we’ll put a game plan in,” he said.
“But, really, with a one-day turn around, you don’t have a lot of time.”