by Matt Delaney
A 4-1 victory over Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School and a 3-0 win against Bruton High School have cemented George Mason’s varsity boys soccer team as one of two top seeds for the four-team Virginia High School League 2A state tournament down in southwest Virginia this upcoming weekend.
Last Wednesday’s Regional semifinal against Maggie Walker could easily be considered the Mustangs biggest game of the year. The winner would automatically clinch one of the 2A East’s seeds for the state tournament, not to mention bragging rights in the ongoing rivalry between Mason and Maggie Walker that spans multiple sports.
In a do or die game, the Mustangs chose the former.
“We prepared mentally to play this match,” sophomore forward Kevin Valle said. “We were as a team–we won battles and were ready to fight.”
Mason started off well when a corner kick from junior midfielder Olo Sembera Baracco set up a decisive header from senior forward Elliot Mercado for the game’s first goal less eight minutes in. But Mason stagnated for the remainder of the first half, and allowed Maggie Walker to regain their confidence and the momentum heading into halftime.
When play resumed Mason came out with their hair on fire. Valle zipped a low right-to-left cross that found Mercado for his and the Mustangs’ second goals four minutes into the second half. Maggie Walker got a boost of their own when their winger beat Mason’s back line and junior goalkeeper Walker Hegadorn two minutes later.
However, the Mustangs didn’t flinch. In the 51st minute another Sembera Baracco corner kick pinballed in front of the Dragons’ net before senior midfielder Samsudeen Sallah chipped it in. A Mason penalty kick in the 66th minute padded their lead.
“We just wanted to play our style, and when it got a little physical we strayed away from that,” head coach Frank Spinello said. “But we played our style in spurts long enough to make the result positive.”
Mason secured their top seed with a win against Bruton in the regional final. The visiting Panthers from Williamsburg were a physically imposing team and hounded the smaller Mustangs throughout the match, but couldn’t compete with Mason’s superior feel for the ball.
“They played hard, but we were ready for this moment.” Valle said.
Consistent possessions inside Bruton’s half of the field helped the Mustangs whittle away at the Panthers defense. Senior forward Donal Reyes de Leon notched the Mustangs first goal in the 16th minute. Sembera Baracco’s low pass to Reyes de Leon counted Mason’s next goal early into the second half. Valle added a third just before the game ended.
Mason will face Graham High School in the state semifinals on Friday, June 10 at Salem High School.