Warriors lock up top seed in conference with draw against Judges

Handley's Raheem Smith, left, and Sherando's Jacob Sites go after the ball during first half boys soccer action Thursday evening in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – It probably wasn’t how Sherando High School’s boys soccer team expected to lock up the top overall seed in next week’s Conference 21 West tournament.

The Warriors failed to score a goal for just the second time this season during a rain-soaked match at Handley on Thursday afternoon, and saw their streak of 14 consecutive wins come to an end. But Sherando did what it needed to do defensively and shut out the Judges through 90 minutes of action to secure a scoreless draw, which gave the Warriors the conference’s regular-season title and guarantees them a spot in the Region 4A West tournament.

“I think we all have a pretty unanimous mindset that we’ve gotta get better coming into practice over this next week, as we go into more important postseason games,” Warriors junior defender Jacob Crowley said. “But there’s obviously a very strong sense of pride knowing that we’ve won the conference (and earned a regional spot) without even going into the tournament.”

Sherando (14-1-1, 4-0-1 Conference 21 West) head coach Patrick Anderson said the plan wasn’t for the Warriors to start Thursday’s match planning to sit back on defense against the Judges (4-5-4, 2-1-1) despite knowing that a tie would net them the conference title. But after mustering just one shot in the first half and finding scoring opportunities just as sparse as the second half progressed, Anderson said he started changing the strategy a little bit.

“We didn’t preach that by any means, and I don’t know if it was their mentality of thinking be safe and hang out-type stuff like that, because sometimes we were in positions we shouldn’t have been in,” he said.

Sherando's Seth Wade gets a kick past Handley's Brinn Enders during first half boys soccer action Thursday evening in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I tried to adjust a little bit without letting them know, per se,” Anderson added, “because you never wanna say sit back and sag but we knew a tie could get us what we needed to get.”

Sherando, which entered Thursday averaging 4.1 goals per match, finished with just five shots against Handley. After Seth Wade’s 20-yard shot sailed wide right five minutes into the game, the Warriors went the next 50 minutes without firing another attempt until Handley keeper Joel Romero blocked Sean Buono’s shot from the middle of the box off a through pass from Wade with 25 minutes to play in regulation.

The Warriors shot twice more in stoppage time in the second half, as Wade sent a header wide off a long pass into the penalty box from Crowley before Nathan Wagner fired a lining shot over the crossbar as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

Sherando’s Max Polio also misfired on an open goal after a scramble inside the 18-yard box in the first overtime period, and Wade’s cross pass to the front of the goal failed to produce a shot attempt in the second OT.

“We need to play cleaner balls because we knew the weight of the passes would be different for us on turf versus grass,” Anderson said. “And that was killing us some because a lot of decent balls would kind of roll out. … We don’t practice on (artificial turf), so it is a different pace.”

Sherando's Jacob Sites moves the ball downfield as Handley's Saber Ali El Abani, left, and Andrew McIntyre, right, pursue during first half boys soccer action Thursday evening in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

Handley had equally as much trouble finding the back of the net despite firing 11 shots in regulation, six of which were saved by Warriors sophomore keeper Spencer Scott.

“They did have very high pressure, so it was a little bit tough to adapt to but I think we did a great job of making sure we were covering for everybody on the back line,” said Crowley, who started along the defensive line alongside seniors Victor Pinto and Jacob Sites and junior Luke White. “I think we really locked them down tonight.”

Handley, which could’ve secured the Conference 21 West tournament’s top seed with a win Thursday and another on Monday against James Wood, couldn’t capitalize despite largely controlling possession against Sherando. The Judges, who came up empty on four corner kicks in regulation (three in the first half), didn’t record a shot in either of the five-minute overtime frames.

“We’ve struggled at times to play a complete game, so we’ve been very happy (with) our game Tuesday against Millbrook (and) tonight,” Handley head coach Scott Bucey said. “We really controlled the ball, I thought, controlled the game for the most part. We’re really pleased with our play until we get to the 18, and then we’re sort of scrambling to find a way to put it in. But you’ve gotta think we’re doing the right things across the field that hopefully the goals will come for us.”

The Conference 21 West tournament begins next Wednesday, although Sherando will get a first-round bye and won’t play again until next Friday in the semifinals.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com

Sherando's Sean Buono manages to get a quick kick to teammate Seth Wade, right, while Handley's Tyler Heglas, center, defends during first half boys soccer action Thursday evening in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily