North Murray’s boys soccer team went into Friday’s Class 2A state quarterfinals with plans for counterattack offense, hoping Westminster’s defense would make a mistake.
Instead it was the North Murray defense that kept slipping up.
The Mountaineers lost 6-1 to the Wildcats — the 2011 2A state champs made the trip from Atlanta — as their season ended deeper into the playoffs than it has for any other team at the third-year school.
After Westminster (14-5-1) built a 2-0 lead, it struck again in the 57th minute on a penalty kick by Chandler Gay — who finished with three goals — due to a Mountaineers foul inside the goalie box. That play deflated North Murray, which allowed three more scores in the 61st, 69th and 80th minutes.
“We played a great game,” North Murray senior Ismael Cruz said. “We tried everything we had.
“I’m not disappointed; we played a state championship team. We gave it all and tried our best but sometimes you don’t win.”
After Westminster built a 2-0 lead at halftime, Wildcats coach Scott Snyder focused on his team not letting that edge slip away due to complacency. Snyder called it one of the worst things for a soccer team to be ahead 2-0 at halftime because it can cause the players to get relaxed.
“If they score, all the momentum shifts,” Snyder said. “We start to relax, and they score and everything shifts.”
North Murray coach Matt Chambers would have loved to switch spots.
“I think that’s a motivational tactic, for sure,” Chambers said.
Chambers said before the game the Mountaineers (14-3) would use long passes to counterattack once the Wildcats pushed up their defenders. To do this, North Murray knew it would have to withstand a number of attacks from Westminster and play sound defense.
It didn’t take long for the Mountaineers to have their first defensive lapse. A corner kick for Westminster in the seventh minute went to the near post and Gay was able to beat a defender to the spot and volley the ball past North Murray goalkeeper Manuel Gonzalez for a 1-0 lead.
Westminster struck again in the 30th minute with a cross from the right side of the field to the back post, and Andy Stormont was waiting with another volley past a diving Gonzalez to put the Mountaineers in the two-goal deficit.
“We live off set pieces,” Snyder said. “On the first goal, my assistant put that play in (Thursday). ... This has probably been our best game.”
North Murray’s lone goal came in the 67th minute with the score at 4-0. Freddy Urbina had a free kick from 35 yards out that found the top left corner and was beyond Westminster goalie Andrew Freschi’s grasp.
The Mountaineers are the school’s only team to advance to the quarterfinals in a playoff bracket. North Murray also captured the school’s first varsity team region title earlier this spring with a shootout victory against Calhoun in the 7-2A tournament championship.
“I’m still crazy proud of my boys,” said Chambers, whose team made it to the second round last season. “We were the region champs and our goal was to make it to the elite eight, and we did that. So, it’s just more firewood for next year to push it forward.”
Cruz said the season has elevated the sport at North Murray to the level of football and basketball.
“With soccer, they respect us and show us off,” Cruz said. “They had basketball and football, and even though they didn’t make it far, those were the biggest sports. Now soccer is the biggest sport.”
Westminster, Region 6’s No. 3 seed, took 29 shots on goal to North Murray’s eight, and Westminster had eight corners while North Murray had zero. Gonzalez made 10 saves in the net to keep North Murray in the game up until the third Westminster goal.
The game turned a bit rough in the final minutes. After neither side received a yellow card through most of the game, four cards were dished out by the end.
Cruz became the first in the 60th minute. Jesus Reyes received a yellow card in the 69th minute and then another with only seconds to play to officially receive a red card. Westminster’s Ramsey Fahs received one in the 72nd minute. A total of 17 fouls — 11 for the Wildcats — were called.