By Brad Fauber
WOODSTOCK -- Shortly before the start of Central's Bull Run District boys soccer tournament quarterfinal showdown with William Monroe on Friday, Falcons senior Stephen Hamrick was called to midfield and recognized as being the school's new career goals record holder.
Hamrick, a four-year player for Central head coach Ted Poor, had 64 career goals coming into Friday, and the senior added No. 65 and 66 to that list after helping the No. 4 Falcons to a 2-1 tournament win over the fifth-seeded Green Dragons.
The speedy Hamrick has been scoring goals for the Falcons since he first connected on a header in his first varsity game as a freshman four years ago, and it was only fitting that Hamrick would be the one to help push Central into the semifinal round on Friday, although he may disagree.
"I think it was more fitting to come out and win this game. That's all I care about," Hamrick said. "I didn't care about 60 goals, I didn't care about 50, I didn't care about 40. I just wanted win after win -- get those wins up instead of the goals."
The win advances Central (10-5-2) to the semifinal round against top-seeded George Mason next Tuesday.
The Falcons lost twice to George Mason during the regular season, but played the Mustangs tough in their second matchup, losing 2-1. Central also has momentum on its side going into next week, as the Falcons have ripped off seven straight victories and look like a completely different team that started out the season 0-3.
"It's all about chemistry. We've got a lot of young kids that stepped up and have played huge. And then the seniors -- there was good leadership from the captains, keeping the team together," Poor said. "Even when we were down early on, we just kind of felt that we had some magic that would come alive. We're not the greatest team, but we're not easy to beat either. They're hard-nosed, they don't quit."
Friday's match began much as expected, as both teams appeared evenly matched and neither team could find success on offense in the early going. The Falcons did manage to fire four shots in the opening 15 minutes of action, but all four attempts were swallowed up by Green Dragons goalkeeper Aaron Kildea (11 saves).
Central finally struck for a goal in the 18th minute when a William Monroe defender deflected a shot by Central's Wyatt Hitt right to Hamrick, who was waiting in front of the goal. Hamrick punched the ball by Kildea to give the Falcons a 1-0 lead.
"It was great shot by Wyatt, but I just followed it up, got a tap on it, hit the post and it went in," Hamrick said.
William Monroe answered quickly with a goal by freshman Jaciel Castillo in the 21st minute to tie the match at 1-1, and both teams battled evenly over the next 34 minutes before Hamrick struck again.
This time, Hamrick chased down a beautiful through ball by teammate Nathan Spencer, and Hamrick beat Kildea in a one-on-one opportunity to give Central a 2-1 lead with 25 minutes remaining in the match.
The Falcons had to rely on their defense over the final 25 minutes, as William Monroe put a ton of pressure on Central's defensive line late in the match.
The Green Dragons unleashed a barrage of attacks as time began ticking away, and Falcons keeper Eric Ventura made a spectacular leaping save on a high free kick from Castillo with less than two minutes remaining to preserve the lead.
"At first I was a little worried that I wouldn't get it, but I got there just in time," Ventura said. "They were attacking a lot at the end, and I guess it's just instinct at the end. That's when I play best."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org