By Maurice Patton
COLUMBIA – Veteran boys soccer coach Greg Szydlowski admitted to some butterflies Tuesday night.
Brewer Wall, Columbia Central’s junior forward, tried to settle his coach as best he could.
“I said at halftime, ‘we’re going to score a lot of goals’,” Wall said after the Lions’ second-half barrage delivered a 6-1 Region 4-AAA tournament semifinal victory over visiting Stewarts Creek.
Wall had a pair of those scoring kicks, the second coming during a six-minute span in which Central (17-2-1) decisively snapped a 1-1 halftime deadlock with three goals. Randy Gray and Victor Ramirez each found the back of the net prior to Wall, who scored three minutes into the contest.
“With all the chances we had in the first half, I thought they were going to start flowing in. And this is ‘our’ goal,” Wall said, pointing at the net on the west end of Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Stewarts Creek (10-8-1) scored what turned out to be its only goal of the night just seconds after Wall got the hosts on the scoreboard, countering with a Bill Mabudi marker at the 35:57 mark of the opening period.
“Drew (Norman, co-coach) and I were talking at the beginning. We knew with their scouting that they were going to ‘high press’ us,” Szydlowski said. “But that’s going to burn you eventually. With our technical ability and our athleticism, we wore them down. People with athletes can find that space.
“That was probably the most nervous I’ve been all year. It’s the biggest game of the year – win or go home.”
In the final 40 minutes, the Lions made sure they weren’t going home. Gray put Central ahead for good on his header inside the right post off a Ramirez corner kick from the opposite side with 24:09 remaining. Ramirez added a score off a deep free kick from the right side three minutes later, and Wall converted a Kameron Smith pass at the 17:59 mark.
Another Ramirez free kick with 9:42 remaining further extended the lead, and Gray picked up his second goal with six minutes to go when a teammate’s shot caromed off RedHawk goalkeeper Alend Mohammed and he redirected it into the net — further cementing Columbia Central’s third consecutive state sectional appearance.
“I wouldn’t change anything except we gave them the set pieces and they were able to capitalize,” Stewarts Creek coach Fulgence Latema said. “Our kids played hard. We had objectives and we achieved them. We created chances. We just gave up cheap shots and they were able to capitalize.”
Defensively, Columbia Central particularly focused its efforts on senior forward Mak Binder – devoting at least a couple of Lions to him whenever he was in possession of the ball.
“Our back line – Randy, Colin Rowe, Brandon Carrascoza and John Dunn – played so well,” Szydlowski said. “They didn’t play that well against Shelbyville (in the District 8-AAA finals). This time, we held No. 7 (Binder) and No. 37 (Haile Sharp).
“What an amazing win for our boys. But we’re not done. We figured at the start, seven matches will get us to the state championship. This is No. 3.”
No. 4 takes Columbia Central to Oakland, the District 7-AAA titlist, for Thursday’s region final. Oakland defeated Shelbyville 5-0 in the other regional semifinal.
Thursday’s winner will host a Class AAA sectional contest on Saturday, with the loser traveling to face the Region 3-AAA champion.
The Patriots scored twice in the final four minutes to defeat Central 3-2 on May 1.
“We know what’s coming,” Wall said. “We definitely played one of our worst games (against Oakland). We’ll be ready.”