After muscling out a tough final stretch of the regular season, George Mason High School’s varsity boys soccer team looks to begin anew with the postseason beginning at home with a 3-1 win over Clarke County High School.
Clarke County has long been a rival of Mason’s (13-2-2) but Tuesday night’s match presented new chapter in their feud. The two squared off in Berryville just last Wednesday to end the regular season where the Mustangs seized a 2-1 victory to enter the playoffs on a high note. Roughly a week later, they butted heads once again with their respective seasons at stake. The pressure of fighting off a scrappy team in a knockout game is daunting, but Mason rose to the challenge.
“We just had to stay composed. When somebody’s season is on the line and they’ve got nothing to lose, it gets chippy,” head coach Frank Spinello said. “We’ve experienced that in the past, so we just gotta make sure we play through it and don’t retaliate and don’t complain.”
The Mustangs shot out of the gates in the first half. They generated quality chances in the final third of the field even if the shots weren’t finding the twine. Part of that was due to the sudden downpour that soaked the pitch at the start of the game, but that soon played into Mason’s advantage. Junior midfielder Peter Scardino sent a low pass behind the Eagles’ backline and right to senior forward Olo Sembera Baracco, who ripped a shot straight at Clarke County’s goalkeeper, but wet gloves betrayed him as the ball slipped off his fingertips and into the goal. In the 26th minute another quick shot increased Mason’s advantage when senior forward Connor Anderson, freshman midfielder Cole Hellert, and Sembera Baracco tick-tack-toed their passes before finding sophomore midfielder Nick Wells alone in front of the net for an easy tap in.
Given the slick conditions and Mason’s dominant ball control, a 2-0 lead felt much larger than it looked. That was until the Eagles found themselves deep in the Mustangs territory and scorched a shot to cut the lead in half. The sudden goal rattled the Mustangs, who struggled to string together consistent possessions for stretches during the second half and gave a hungry Clarke County team life. Thankfully, veterans out on the field were able to stabilize a possible tailspin.
“We’ve got strong leaders out on the field and they were able to take care of it,” Spinello continued. “They just reminded our guys that we need to concentrate on the next ten minutes and not lose our heads.”
Mason withstood a late barrage of advances when its back line cut off passing lanes and stopped the Eagles’ offensive players from setting up in front of their net. Scardino put the final nail in Clarke County’s coffin when he recovered a loose ball deep in the their defensive zone, weaved through the defense and faked out the Eagles’ goalkeeper to casually flick in a decisive final goal.
Mason plays Central High School on Thursday for the Conference 35 championship and will host a home playoff game to start the 2A East region tournament on May 29.