Soccer: Shelby 1, Salisbury 0
By David Shaw
Salisbury’s boys soccer team ran out of stardust Monday night.
After racing through the season and three rounds of the 2A state playoffs, the Hornets were handed their walking papers ó and a 1-0 season-ending loss ó by visiting Shelby.
“Everybody right now is absolutely sick that we’re not practicing (today),” Salisbury coach Tom Sexton said after the Hornets suffered their first shutout. “And that’s a good thing. There’s not one kid here who doesn’t wish we were moving on. But years from now we’ll look back and say, ‘You know what? That was a heck of a season.’ ”
It was. Salisbury finished 23-2-1 after its 13-game winning streak was snapped by a team that tightly defended the attack zone, cleaned up messes in front of its cage and scored unexpectedly on a 40-yard shot with 15:52 remaining in the first half.
“We lost 10 starters and 12 seniors from last year,” said center fullback Wes McNeely, one of four Salisbury seniors. “Nobody expected this. We overachieved, but still it’s just a sad ending.”
Shelby (21-3-1), unbeaten in its last 17 matches, advanced to Wednesday’s state semifinal. The Lions outshotSHS 17-10 and seemingly had an answer for every Salisbury challenge.
“We knew they were an offensive team and were going to attack all night,” said winning coach David Steeves. “We played well organizationally in the back because we had to. In some ways we were fortunate.”
In others, they were simply better.
“They did not have a weakness on the field,” explained sophomore Michael Mazur. “They didn’t have any great players, but they were all solid players.”
The game’s lone goal came on a somewhat freakish play. Salisbury was in the process of substituting for forward Paul Kollie, who was jogging toward the sideline.
“The side judge had his flag up,” Sexton noted. “But the head referee let them play on. The bad thing is that our midfield and forwards were standing still, thinking a sub was coming on.”
Instead a Shelby entry pass was headed away by McNeely to the 30-yard line, where junior David Hill unleashed a magnificent blast from the right side that whizzed by SHS keeper Connor Miller and nestled into the upper left corner.
“I couldn’t see it until it was over the heads of all my defenders,” said Miller, a sophomore who helped Salisbury record 13 shutouts this season. “It was curling to my right and got past me. Pretty unlucky for us.”
Steeves said Hill has been drilling similar shots-on-goal all year. “He can strike it from out there,” he said. “And the way he strikes it, he doesn’t put a lot of loft on the ball. He’s more of a line-drive shooter. He hit that one with a lot of pace. It arrived quickly.”
Sexton was startled.
“I’m not saying that shot wouldn’t have gone in anyway,” he said, “because it was a gorgeous shot. He had topspin on it, he went back corner and the whole deal. I’m just saying that we weren’t really prepared for the ball to be played at that time.”
Salisbury was foiled repeatedly by Shelby’s clearing-house defense and keeper Rob Binion, a take-charge senior who made eight saves.
“I’ve seen a lot of playoff games and college games,” said Sexton. “And believe me, that guy’s a Division I keeper.”
Salisbury’s best chances came early in the second half, when Kenny Bonilla knocked a shot off the post and a couple other short-range attempts were shanked. Shelby squandered a chance to go up 2-0 midway through the second half when back John Grant cleared a ball 4 feet from the goal line with Miller out of position.
“We did the best we could,” said Kollie. “I hope they play like this next year when I’m gone. They’re young and they’re going to be better.”
NOTES: Miller finished with 12 saves. … Shelby, unbeaten champion of the South Mountain Athletic Conference, is 16-0-1 since dropping a 1-0 non-league match at Polk County in September.