Pat’s End Bengals’ Playoff Run

Blythewood’s Justin Germano (9) mixes it up with J.L. Mann’s Adam Calloway (12) in Tuesday’s class 4A upper state match. (Photo/Kristy Kimball Massey)

Blythewood’s Justin Germano (9) mixes it up with J.L. Mann’s Adam Calloway (12) in Tuesday’s class 4A upper state match. (Photo/Kristy Kimball Massey)

BLYTHEWOOD – Between the two aggressive soccer teams fighting for the 4A upper state championship Tuesday night, J.L. Mann’s first-half goal on a direct free kick proved the difference against Blythewood.

Michele Bottari booted in that goal at the 9:45 mark of the first half at the Blythewood soccer field. Drake Byrd added a goal before intermission for the Patriots in a 2-0 shutout over the Bengals to return to the 4A state championship game.

“They’re a good squad,” Blythewood head coach Peter Wittig said of the Patriots. “I told the guys that if we would’ve lost to a team that didn’t play better than we did, then I’d be really upset. But they were really good. Having fallen to them I’d really like to see them win this time.”

J.L. Mann (21-2), three days removed from knocking off Dutch Fork in the third round, will face the Wando-River Bluff winner Saturday at River Bluff Stadium. The Patriots fell to Wando in the championship game last year.

“I’m just really proud of our guys” J.L. Mann head coach Jay Dender said. “I’ve got a lot of young players on this team, so it’s really exciting. We’ll put the work in this week and go Saturday and hope for a different result than we had last year.”

J.L. Mann and Blythewood (19-6) moved the length of the field several times over, with neither team maintaining steady pressure in opponents’ territory.

The Patriots had three shots on goal and three indirect free kicks leading up to Bottari’s goal, while the Bengals took four shots and came up empty.

After falling into a 1-0 deficit, Blythewood had two free kicks and a corner kick to try and even the score, but couldn’t get anything out of the chances.

In first-half extra time, Byrd skirted Blythewood goalkeeper Reid Hunter and kicked in the second and final goal of the evening.

The Blythewood pitch proved perfect for protecting that lead in the second half, Dender said.

“Our guys were able to get the ball on the ground and knock it around,” he said. “It’s one of our strengths. We can take a good physical game, but I like it when we can get the ball on the ground and move it around to open up some gaps. We had good pressure on them tonight and didn’t let them settle on the ball. We didn’t let (Blythewood forward) Grayson Barber turn with the ball, so I know he got frustrated.”

J.L. Mann did frustrate the Bengals to the extent that it could not maintain a steady attack on the Patriots’ goal. But Blythewood also fell into some opportunities that just didn’t pan out.

“We had eight corner kicks,” Wittig said. “It wasn’t that we didn’t have our chances, they just defended really well. I was proud of our guys. They came out in the second half thinking that we’ve got to make this happen, and we did spend some time in front of their goal, but we couldn’t put it in.”

Wittig said this year’s team has a lot to be proud of, having gone one game better than last year, which ended in a 3-2 loss in the third round at Dorman.

“We were happy to get past that third round,” Wittig said. “Every year has gotten better. The program is really coming along. Quality kids are coming in and new kids are moving into the area every year. It’s exciting.”

This year, Blythewood bumped off Dorman 2-1 on May 7, and blanked Mauldin 1-0 last Saturday to advance to the upper state match. Barber booted in the winning goal Saturday, while his game-tying goal against Dorman last week set up Sebastian Gutierrez’s game-winner with five minutes to go.

 

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