LEXINGTON River Bluff defeated Socastee 4-1 for a spot in the Class 4A Lower State championship game on Saturday at River Bluff.
The Gators, ranked second in the state, had trailed early, but knotted the score before halftime and took off in the second half.
“They consider themselves a second-half team, and have supreme confidence in their fitness and durability, and their ability to come out strong in the second half,” said coach Phil Savitz, in his second season at River Bluff. The Gators (20-2-1), in their first season in Class 4A, will host Wando on Tuesday. Their 2014 season ended in the Class 3A Lower State final.
“We’re doing it for the second year in a row, and I would hope that they are not satisfied just getting there,” Savitz said. “I would hope that they realize that getting there is just part of their opportunity, and that winning that game would be a first in River Bluff history, something special for this community, this school and this program.”
Two minutes into the second half, River Bluff took the lead for the first time, 2-1, as Connor Slattery scored off an assist from Gian Ortega from 10 yards out.
Minutes later, Ortega challenged the Socastee keeper one-on-one from directly in front of the goal to make it 3-1 with 33 minutes left to play.
With a little more than 20 minutes remaining, the Gators notched their fourth goal, this time with Marcelo Malpartida striking net.
“Goals lead to goals for this team,” Savitz said. “It just seems like, when we get one, we tend to get several, and they like the feeling of celebrating goals.”
After 10 minutes of play, the Gators got their first good chance at a goal, looking to strike with a crossing shot from 10 yards out. But the Braves crowded the box to keep the Gators at bay, then quickly went on the attack.
The Socastee keeper sent the ball to midfield, and Chris Matlashewski pushed it to the front, then booted a goal into the side net past the diving Gators’ keeper to put Socastee up 1-0 in the 11th minute.
“I almost think, in some ways, it was good for us. We looked kind of asleep there, and it might have woke us up,” Savitz said.
River Bluff had several chances from there, including two corners and a free kick in the 20th minute, but did not answer until the 27th minute.
The Gators got an indirect kick from 22 yards out. The Braves’ keeper punched that shot out, but River Bluff tapped the ball back to Trevor Granda. Granda sent a shot into the corner of the goal to knot the score.
The Gators kept the ball in their attacking third for the remainder of the half, but the score remained 1-1 through the break.
River Bluff posted 13 shots on goal in the game. Gators goalkeeper Drew Roswurm made five saves against the Braves’ 6 shots on goal to preserve the win.
Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419