By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Randolph-Macon Academy's Herman Mangueira didn't even need to look when he snapped off a looping cross into the penalty box on Thursday.
Mangueira knew -- he just knew -- that fellow senior Bryan Mazzola would be there.
The connection was there -- Mangueira to Mazzola - and opened up a prime scoring opportunity the Yellow Jackets didn't waste. Mazzola collected the pass behind a pair of Wakefield School defenders, then sliced a shot from the center of the penalty box past Owls goalkeeper Matt Steensma for the decisive opening goal in R-MA's 2-0 victory.
"He knew exactly where I was going for it," Mazzola said. "We've tried it in practice a bunch of times, and we were able to get it right over the defenders and just bring it right in for the goal."
That combination -- Mangueira to Mazzola -- has been money all season for R-MA (5-3 overall, 2-1 in Delaney Athletic Conference). Mazzola has five goals, and Mangueira has four assists this year.
"Personally, I like playing with Bryan because I think we have a good connection," Mangueira said. "He knows where to be, and I know where he is. When I look up, he's there where I want him to be. I just play the ball to him, and we get the results we need during the game."
The Yellow Jackets kept applying sporadic pressure after Mazzola's goal in the 19th minute. R-MA outshot Wakefield (1-4-3) 8-2 over the first 40 minutes and forced Steensma into five first-half saves, but couldn't muster another goal.
That changed in the second half, when the Yellow Jackets once more benefited from the powerful leg of senior Ben Gillis. Already this season, Gillis scored an unassisted goal off a direct kick from midfield. That kicking leg has been extra valuable for R-MA -- Gillis is once again moonlighting as the Yellow Jackets' kicker on the football team. Against the Owls, he unleashed a direct kick that sailed halfway down the field to just outside the penalty box. Teammate Danny Chung was tracking that ball, and slipped behind a defender to collect it and punch in a shot past Steensma.
"Ben is by far our most physical player," Yellow Jackets first-year coach Jeff Moxie said. "He's very athletic, he's quick. He plays center-back for us; I'd love to have him up front in the attack, but he plays such good 'D.' I have to shore up the goal before I attack, but he's the anchor."
Moxie made a halftime adjustment that soon made a difference for the Yellow Jackets. After spending much of the first 40 minutes butting up against the Owls' two best defenders in the middle, R-MA spent the final 40 minutes attacking the wings. It paid off, as R-MA amped up the pressure with 13 second-half shots.
"Early on we came out kind of flat, but after halftime we came up and started playing a lot better, putting a lot more pressure on the ball," Moxie said. "I think they started to fatigue a little bit. I just kept putting in subs and we started attacking the wings."
R-MA goalkeeper Jahandar Darvish had a relatively quiet game, tallying four saves in the shutout victory.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>