Prep soccer: Salisbury 2, West Davidson 1
By Mike London
Salisbury defensive standout Wes McNeely’s in-traffic header turned away West Davidson’s last desperate scoring bid with 1:07 left on the scoreboard.
McNeely preserved a tense 2-1 victory at Ludwig Stadium on Thursday and sealed the Hornets’ sixth consecutive CCC championship.
“Everything this season, I guess, came down to that one moment,” McNeely said. “All the conditioning that we’ve done since July 15. Just everything.”
Eighth-ranked Salisbury (20-1-1, 9-1 CCC) used a brilliant goal by Kenny Bonilla and a PK by keeper Connor Miller to build a halftime lead. It held off the Green Dragons with determined defense keyed by run-all-night Hanson Saryee.
Salisbury will enter next week’s playoffs on a 10-match winning streak. The Hornets’ only loss this season was a 3-2 setback at West Davidson on Sept. 28. Salisbury finally put that frustrating defeat in the rearview mirror.
“Both games against West Davidson have taken everything that we had to give,” SHS coach Tom Sexton said. “The first time, they prevailed. Tonight, we prevailed. We missed so many opportunities, but we kept bangin’ on the door. We kept the pressure on them.”
Salisbury had several shots early, but the game remained scoreless until Bonilla maneuvered down the right side with 5:40 left in the first half. While falling on his backside, he rocketed a shot that cleared the keeper and found a home just inside the left post.
“A tremendous goal because he had only about a 10-degree angle to work with,” Sexton said. “And Kenny had to work so hard to get open just to get the shot away.”
With just over a minute left in the half, Matt Cervantes was ridden down in the box. Miller, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, was called on to attempt the PK and delivered.
“I’ve made several this year, so I had some confidence,” Miller said. “I’m very comfortable taking them.”
Things tightened up with 23 minutes remaining when Patrick Miller scored a sudden goal for the 15th-ranked Green Dragons. McNeely described it as “an accident.”
“A carom off of a carom,” Sexton added with a sigh.
After that, the Dragons had momentum and the Hornets had to dig in. Connor Miller was outstanding in goal, using his height, reach and jumping ability to keep Salisbury out of danger. Twice, he got up to pluck balls almost off the heads of West Davidson attackers.
“My height can be a pretty good advantage on the airballs, but it doesn’t help me on the low ones,” Miller said with a smile. “It can be a disadvantage trying to get down there.”
Salisbury switched two midfielders to forwards and vise versa, pulling out all the stops in an effort to confuse West Davidson’s defense, but the Dragons stayed in it.
Cervantes, Bonilla, Gerardo Sosa, Paul Kollie and Michael Mazur made creative plays to set up teammates, but there were no finishes and the Hornets were still hanging on in the final frantic minutes.
Appropriately, the last touch was by McNeely. He gently tapped the ball toward the West Davidson goal with five seconds left and jogged off the field, clapping his hands in celebration.
“We make mistakes, but we are never outhustled,” McNeely said. “That was an amazing feeling at the end. It feels great when you work for something all year and get it.”
This is the 12th league title for Sexton, who accepted the reins of the Hornets in 1990. He’s guided Salisbury’s first 20-win season since 2004, and it really wasn’t supposed to happen.
“This championship feels fantastic because a bunch of people thought we’d be rebuilding this year,” Miller said. “But we thought different, and we’ve had a pretty good year.”
It’s not over. The Hornets have a string of home playoff matches ahead of them if they can keep winning.
“We never like to talk about rebuilding even though we’re young,” Sexton said. “We like to set that bar high and see what develops.
“This season turned out pretty sweet.”
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