By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Whenever James Wood and Sherando's boys soccer teams square off, it's always an emotional -- and at times brutal -- test of wills.
Saturday's semifinal match between the archrivals in the Northwestern District tournament semifinals was no different.
Add to the tension that after Handley's victory over Millbrook in the first semifinal game, the confrontation between the Warriors and the Colonels also included a spot in the Region II tournament.
This time it was Sherando that came out on top, 2-0, but not before both teams had expended all of the heart and energy they could bring to bear.
"It was really an intense game," James Wood midfielder Zach Lloyd said. "Both teams really came to play. In the first half, we were playing our game. We all worked our hearts out, but it was Sherando who got the breaks they needed to win."
The game was a case of two very different halves. In the first half, the Colonels dominated play, out-shooting the Warriors, 5-1. But it wasn't just the number of shots. James Wood had several chances to take an early lead, only to watch those chances slip away by inches.
"I thought that we really played great in the first half," Colonels coach Chris Hild said. "We had the momentum the entire half. I don't know how many shots we had that missed by inches from going into the goal."
With 25 minutes to play in the first half, Hild's choice of the word inches truly came into play. Logan Yost hit a free kick that got by Warrior goalkeeper Zach Santimer, only to hit the crossbar and sail over the net.
With less than two minutes left in the half, only a phenomenal save by Michael O'Connell saved Sherando from being behind by one at halftime. Cody King launched a free kick that got past Santimer and was only inches from going into the goal when O'Connell appeared out of nowhere to clear it away.
Despite James Wood's dominance in the first half, the Warriors were anything but passive over the same time period. The passionate, rough play was continuous, with three yellow cards (two for Sherando and one for James Wood) handed out in the first half alone.
With the Warriors reeling and the Colonels holding the momentum, Sherando coach Pat Anderson had a talk with his team at halftime that changed the pulse of the game.
"I told them that they were dribbling too much in the first half," Anderson said. "We were trying to get the ball into scoring position by dribbling instead of passing and letting the ball do the work for us. We changed that in the second half, and it made a big difference."
Anderson's words had an immediate impact on the game. Just four minutes into the second half, Taylor Ruths had a difficult opportunity to score. Instead of taking the shot, he laid it off to Graham Siegfried, who hammered it home from 15 yards out to put Sherando up 1-0.
"Taylor just played a beautiful ball to me," Siegfried said. "Getting the first goal helped a lot. It pushed us to keep going. That was a big momentum builder."
Despite the Warriors lead, James Wood was in no mood to give up, and the game, if possible, got even more intense and physical. Midway through the second half, Warriors sweeper Jake Lewis had a hard collision with a James Wood forward, and hurt his right shoulder. For the rest of the half, the Sherando junior fought back pain but never let the Colonels get the ball in the goal.
"We work hard as a team," Siegfried said. "It's really not an individual thing. We look out for each other, and we play strong all of the time no matter what."
With James Wood pressing hard for the equalizer, the Warriors got another superb passing combination to put the game out of reach. It also gave O'Connell, who had made the defensive play of the game, an opportunity to show his offensive prowess.
O'Connell headed a ball to Josh Dennis, who broke free and put the ball past the Colonels' goalkeeper to give the Warriors a 2-0 lead with just three minutes to play.
"We work on that in practice every day," Dennis said. "It was just a great play by Michael [O'Connell] to get me the ball. I just followed it and put it in the net."
With the win, Sherando will play Handley for the district tournament crown on Tuesday.
"I've been really impressed with our team this year," Anderson said. "A lot of people wrote us off because of all the quality seniors we lost last year. But we always set as our goal to win the district and go to the regionals. It's a real credit to this team that they've made that happen this year."