The River Bluff boys soccer team walked out of the locker roomTuesdaynight at The Swamp dejected, fighting back tears and thoughts of what could have been. Waiting for them was a throng of fans that gave them a rousing ovation for the effort they displayed in trying to knock off Wando, the No. 1 ranked team in the country by USA Today, in the Class 5A Lower State Championship.
The Gators came up short in a 2-1 loss, but it was a classic display of soccer from two of the best programs the state has to offer.
Phil Savitz, the owner of the state record with 15 state championships trophies, wasn’t disappointed in his team’s effort.
“Those were two great, prideful teams battling toe-to-toe all night long,” Savitz said. “I felt our guys gave an unbelievable account of themselves. In the end, we created enough chances to get more goals, but to Wando’s credit, two of theirs went over the line and only one of ours did.”
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Wando (27-0) will take a 53-game winning streak into Saturday’s state championship tilt with Nation Ford at 7 p.m. at Irmo’s W.C. Hawkins Stadium.
“It’s exciting,” Wando coach Shilo Tisdale said. “We know it’s going to be a battle. Whoever we get, we know they’re going to have to be battle-tested, so we’ll have to be ready.”
Wando and River Bluff are familiar with each other. They routinely play during the season and have faced each other the past four years in the playoffs, with the Warriors claiming three of the four wins. River Bluff is the last team to defeat Wando, in the 2016 Lower State finals.
Tisdale walked away from this one pleased his team will have a chance to defend its title.
“That was, by far, the toughest game we’ve had,” Tisdale said. “They battle with so much heart and pride. Every time you go against a team coach Savitz has a hand in, you know they’re going to fight. I was very impressed and admired everything they did tonight.”
The Warriors got on the board first at the nine-minute mark on a penalty kick from Dylan McLoone after a Wando attacker was pulled down in the box.
It stayed that way until the half. Wando increased the lead to 2-0 in the 63rd minute on a breakaway goal from Ari Ogretmen. River Bluff answered a minute later when Peyton Miller headed in a throw-in from Daniel O’Hara.
But the Gators, who are ranked No. 21 by USA Today, couldn’t find a way to get the tying goal despite outshooting the Warriors 15-6 unofficially.
“There aren’t many games where players as good as we have here, have that many opportunities and they just didn’t go in,” Savitz said. “It’s about making plays, and they made one more than we did. If we were a little more clinical in the attacking third tonight, we might score four or five.”