By Craig Worrell
BUENA VISTA -- For all of Radford’s finesse, all its precision passing and cutting and slashing toward the opponent’s goal, an act of brute force made all the difference in the world Friday.
A Howitzer of a shot by Phillip Crawford in the 55th minute was all the offense Radford would need as the Bobcats blanked Galax 2-0 in the Region C boys’ soccer championship at Southern Virginia University.
After outshooting its previous four opponents a combined 118-19, Galax (13-6-1) was limited to two shots against the Bobcats, only one of them being on goal. Radford spent most of the afternoon on the attack but nearly three-fourths of the way into the match, the Bobcats had nothing to show for it other than a wide advantage in shots attempted.
“The first half, it was all about possession,” said Galax coach Stu Frazier. “They probably had the ball 75 percent of the time. All our passes were going to white instead of maroon. They play very patient soccer”
Finally, as if to say enough is enough, Crawford gathered a pass about 30 yards out and let fly a blazing shot to just under the crossbar. Galax keeper Ryan Cantrell leapt and got both hands squarely on the ball, but the force behind the shot left it with another few inches’ worth of momentum, enough for the ball to cross the goal line on its way down.
“It was a great shot on goal,” Frazier said. “Ryan was where he needed to be, it just went through his hands.”
Unable to crack the Bobcat defense sufficiently on the move, Galax finally got the scoring opportunity it needed with about 18 minutes to play when a foul resulted in a direct kick from 32 yards away. The Tide brought fullback Simo Lagerspetz and his powerful left leg forward for the shot, but the Finnish exchange student was mere inches too high with his booming kick, which caught the crossbar squarely and ricocheted back onto the playing field.
Radford added a goal in the 75th minute when Tino Benitez scored off a corner kick from Kendall Akers for the final margin.
The Maroon Tide had reached the title game after subduing George Wythe 1-0 in Thursday’s semifinal. After 64 scoreless minutes, Galax’s Edu Rojas sent a high bounding lead pass to Jose Martinez, who chipped the ball forward and quickly got behind the two Maroon defenders covering him, leaving a footrace to the ball between Martinez and Wythe keeper Woody Wilder. Martinez barely beat Wilder to the ball just outside the 18-yard box and tapped it over the keeper’s head, from where it took one bounce before gently crossing into the Maroon goal for the game’s only score.
“He’s a three-year starter and he knows what he’s doing. He’s going to play at the next level,” said Frazier of Wilder. “He came out, it was the only chance he had. Jose, he’s a senior also, he made the right choice, just a little pop over the head.”
“I just had to get to it first,” said Martinez, a senior.
A blazing hot day, a field 20 yards wider than most high school fields and an artificial surface made for a pace that George Wythe couldn’t sustain. Despite using almost no substitutions, Galax kept up the activity the entire afternoon while George Wythe gradually lost its legs.
“I’ve tried for three years to get them to slow it down, but on a field like this you want to speed it up, especially when you know how,” Frazier said. “Our kids play a lot of indoor soccer in Mount Airy and it’s fast, so it worked to our advantage.”
“Coach told us before the game that the team that was in the best condition was going to win,” Martinez said. “We just had to play. We play 11 players straight unless one gets hurt.”
Frustration began to mount with the Maroons, who picked up five second-half yellow cards, including double yellows by – and automatic ejections for – Kyle Semones and Stephen Scott.
Galax, which had gone 0-1-1 against the Maroons in the regular season, was the aggressor most of the day, outshooting Wythe 20-10 and attempting nine corners to the Maroons’ two. Stellar play by Wilder kept the Maroons within reach.
“We worked for it the whole game,” said Martinez. “One of them had to fall in. Their goalkeeper is a monster.”
Despite the Radford loss, Galax (13-6-1) will still advance to this week’s Group A tournament and open play against Region D champ John Battle at Sugar Hollow Park in Bristol, most likely on Tuesday. Radford (18-3) will host Region D runner-up Virginia High in its quarterfinal.
“We’ve got good seniors, good captains and good leaders,” Galax coach Mark Clampett said. “They have told [the team] all year, this is our goal, to get to state.”
Online edition The Gazette June 6 2010