By Brad Fauber - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- Visiting Manassas Park proved to be too much to handle for host Stonewall Jackson in a physical and emotional quarterfinal round of the Region B boys soccer tournament on Monday.
The defending Group A champion Cougars were fueled by a hat trick by Jeremias Barrios de Leon, and Pedro Flores added a pair of goals in the 5-1 win, ending Stonewall Jackson's 17-game winning streak and, more importantly, the Generals' season.
The early-round defeat was a familiar feeling for Stonewall Jackson (18-2), which has consistently had to match-up with the top teams from the powerful Bull Run District in regional play over the years.
"There's only been two Stonewall teams that have ever made it out of the first round of the playoffs because we always match-up with the Bull Run, and it's very tough for soccer," said Generals coach Nate Hissong. "I was proud of them for the way that they responded and played physical, and kept going and kept playing hard."
After Stonewall Jackson sophomore Roberto Cardoso narrowly missed giving the Generals an early lead when he banged a 20-yard shot off the crossbar two minutes into the match, Flores got the Cougars (17-2-1) rolling when he snuck a slow roller by Generals keeper Eustergio Cruz-Cortes from 16 yards out to give Manassas Park a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute.
Manassas Park threatened multiple times after Flores' goal to add to the lead, but were thwarted by several outstanding defensive stops by Generals junior Jason Albert and the rest of the Stonewall Jackson backline inside the penalty box.
The Cougars finally broke through again when Silas Carden pushed the ball deep into the box and drew the attention of a pair of Stonewall Jackson defenders, allowing Barrios de Leon to swoop in and find the back of the net in the 25th minute.
"It definitely feels like we're peaking at the right time," said Cougars coach Mike Martinez. "Everybody's clicking on all cylinders. We're feeling pretty confident after getting out of the [Bull Run] district tournament with a win against [top-seeded Clarke County]."
Barrios de Leon tacked on his second goal of the evening when a long ball got away from Cruz-Cortes in the penalty box, leaving the goal open. Barrios de Leon then sent the ball over the head of Cruz-Cortes and another defender and into the back of the net to give the Cougars a 3-0 lead with five minutes remaining before the half.
A Manassas Park player drew a red card with less than two minutes remaining before intermission to provide a spark to Stonewall Jackson heading into the break, but Barrios de Leon was quick to extinguish it in the second half when he ripped a shot off the hands of Cruz-Cortes and into the net in the 46th minute.
"I think we gave them a good game. I don't think it was a 5-1 game -- I think we gave up four pretty bad goals," Hissong said. "The third goal was a keeper error. The fourth goal -- that probably killed us in the second half. Our defenders were playing it across the backline and didn't put enough pace on it.
"So, there were some pretty bad mistakes that they took advantage of."
Stonewall Jackson finally got on the board in with 16 minutes to play when Cardoso corralled a long ball in the penalty box and sent a roller past Cougars keeper Carlos Hernandez to cut the deficit to 4-1.
But that was the extent of the Generals' success on offense, and Flores scored his second goal of the game with 2:23 remaining to cap Manassas Park's 5-1 win.
Despite the early exit in the playoffs, Hissong was proud of what his team was able to accomplish during the 2012 campaign.
"I think they played as well as they could," Hissong said. "For some of our size and some of our speed issues, I think this team really did a good job and accomplished a lot this season."
Hissong also hopes that his returning players will use Monday's game as a learning experience as the Generals look to take that next step toward a state tournament run in the coming years.
"I think it was a good physical game, and that's what those guys at the higher level can expect," he said. "Hopefully they can realize next year that if they play like that more often, they can be a little bit better."