SOUTH AIKEN 3 ASHLEY RIDGE 0
By JEREMY TIMMERMAN
Another round of the Class AAAA playoffs brought another comfortable win for the South Aiken boys’ soccer team on Saturday.
The T-Breds (19-2-1) got three goals from three players in a 3-0 shutout of Ashley Ridge (18-7-1) to advance to the Lower State final. Head coach Dave Myers said that close games the team have played throughout the year helped keep the intensity up to finish off the shutout.
“They’ve been in tight spots all year long,” he said. “I think those tight spots create that atmosphere like we saw tonight.”
South Aiken didn’t wait long to score. Owen Myers had a shot deflected late in the fifth minute by Swamp Fox goalkeeper Stockton Blanchard, but fellow sophomore Jason Granger was there to clean it up and put the ball in the back of the net.
From there, the T-Breds played out the rest of the half using a “possession-oriented” style of game that Myers said his team has implemented all year. They took shots when the chance presented itself, but not until passing the ball around and seeking the best possible shot.
“It’s always that kind of chess game,” Myers said.
The ball mostly remained near the T-Breds’ scoring end throughout the first half, but the Swamp Foxes were occasionally able to get a run downfield, usually by finding the foot of sophomore Britt Soyebo.
Matt Albertson cut him off nearly every time, as the senior defender – teaming with fellow defender John Platte – used his strength at athleticism to turn away the few threats Ashley Ridge presented in the first half.
“He’s real fast and athletic, No. 1,” Myers said of Albertson. “Our two center backs ... really work well in tandem.”
Despite only holding a 1-0 lead after the first half, the T-Breds never pressed or resorted to bad shots. They continued playing a patient game in the second half, but Skyler Lightbody began to get more aggressive from his center attacking position.
That strategy paid off in the 63rd minute, as Lightbody picked his way around the Swamp Foxes’ goalie box before scoring on a ball that skipped off a defender’s leg.
“He sees the field very well from that vantage point,” Myers said.
South Aiken’s patient style of play began to wear on Ashley Ridge as the night went on. While South Aiken played Thursday, inclement weather caused the Swamp Foxes’ second-round game against Aiken to get pushed back to Friday.
Playoff games on back-to-back days took its toll on Ashley Ridge.
“You could tell; they were just tired,” Myers said.
The advantage paid off for the T-Breds again in the 70th minute, as Cesar Beteta and Marcelo Martinez stormed the box before Martinez corralled a rebound and sent it over Blanchard’s head for the final goal of the night. With mostly the South Aiken bench players on the field for the last 10 minutes or so, Ashley Ridge was able to mount more of an attack, but the T-Breds held strong.
Freshman goalkeeper Colby Campbell notched about a half-dozen saves, proving solid when the ball did get through.
Over the course of the night, at least eight different South Aiken players made it into the box with the ball and a chance to at least set up a goal, with Lightbody being the only senior. With three seniors – John Granger, Daniel Zaremba and Tareq Hailat – out for the year with early or preseason injuries, Myers said his team has needed to grow together and utilize balance.
Often, Beteta or Mitchell Myers – the coach’s son – would find a path down the sideline into scoring range and set up a team mate for a shot with a crossing pass.
“That’s probably been the key,” he said of his team’s ability to attack from any lane. “That frees up guys on the inside next transition.”
Now South Aiken, ranked No. 6 in Class AAAA, will turn its attention to the Lower State final and opponent Wando, the No. 2 team in the state. The Warriors even spent some time as the No. 1 team in the nation this year.
The Wednesday game, set for 7 p.m., will also mark the young team’s first road trip of the playoffs.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Myers said of the trip, noting a road game against Lexington that saw his team fight back from a 4-1 hole to tie the game but eventually lose in penalty kicks. “So their maturity level as a soccer player is strong.”
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman South Aiken's Quinn Van Pelt (6) kicks through the defense of Ashley Ridge's Tristen Caples (9).×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman South Aiken's Owen Myers (3) tries to outrun Ashley Ridge's Jacob Kirtley (8).×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman South Aiken's Skyler Lightbody winds up for a shot against Ashley Ridge.×