Wando and River Bluff staged a classic in the Class 4A Lower State boys soccer championship.
The visiting Warriors scored four second half goals for a 4-3 victory Tuesday night that places them in the state championship for the second year in a row. Wando earned a rematch with J.L. Mann on Saturday at 6 p.m. at River Bluff.
“These two programs have played four times in the last two years, and it’s been decided by PKs or one goal (each time),” River Bluff coach Phil Savitz said. “Tonight, they had one more goal in them than we did. To their credit, they played with great composure at the end and really kept the ball from us those last few minutes. They didn’t give a lot of opportunities. It was just a play here and a play there that was the difference.”
The teams split matches during the regular season. Wando claimed the first contest with a 1-0 victory on March 1. River Bluff evened the series when they outscored the Warriors 7-6 in PKs after the teams played to a scoreless tie in regulation and overtime.
“To come to River Bluff where their fan support is really strong and to play on a turf field – which we don’t all year long – to take this away from them is just outstanding,” Wando coach Shilo Tisdal said. “A lot of the social media stuff they’ve been throwing out there really motivated us. It added up and built up for us.”
Savitz has taken the Gators to the brink of a state championship appearance in both years of the school’s existence. They lost in the Class 3A semifinals last year.
“To come up just short last year in 3A, it was good to see the kids back on this stage at home,” he said. “But I have to admit, it’s a little excruciating not to go on and play at home for a state championship for a second year in a row.”
Wando got two goals from Joshua Masten and one each from Sam Ross and Nick Wright. Wright’s goal in the 69th minute proved to be the game-winner. He slipped a shot through the hands of River Bluff’s goalkeeper to give the Warriors a two-goal lead.
River Bluff got within one on a goal by Connor Slattery, his second, in the 72nd minute. But Wando played keep-away for much of the final few minutes.
“We held back a little and played it safe,” Tisdal said. “We knew they would throw numbers up, so we held numbers back. They got one on us and that just made things more interesting.”
River Bluff (20-3-1) held a 1-0 halftime lead when Slattery rebounded his own blocked shot and easily put the ball into the left corner of the net in the 27th minute. Savitz felt good at that point because his team had been more of a second half team all season, but Wando wiped that away quickly.
“We’ve been a second-half team all year,” he said. “I felt so good having it as close as it was at halftime. We usually come out on fire in the second half, but, for whatever reason, couldn’t find a great rhythm but they did. To their credit, they erased two one-goal leads by us.”
The second half started quickly. Wando scored first on a breakaway by Ross two minutes into the half. Less than two minutes later, Ben Freiburger scored to put the Gators back in front.
The Warriors took four minutes to tie it again when Masten scored off a corner kick.
Wando (25-1) went ahead for good in the 69th minute when Masten scored again off a corner kick, this time on a header.
“I thought we had chances in the first half but just didn’t capitalize on them.” Tisdal said. “We fell asleep and gave them a goal. We made it a lot harder than it should have been, but we’re back in the championship, and it feels good.”