After three years without a loss on the pitch, Episcopal High School looked on in disbelief as St. Stephens and St. Agnes celebrated a historic win against the cross-town soccer powerhouse Monday.
Saints head coach Bo Amato called it an ugly 3-0 win, but knocking off a top-seeded contender at home made the second round Virginia Independent Schools tournament matchup plenty interesting.
Its not pretty and its not really an advert for the sport but was it an exciting game? I wasnt bored to death, he said. It goes to show you the beauty of this game.
Amato drew on the same game plan behind the Saints earlier tournament win against Eastern Mennonite: load up SSSA’s half of the field with defenders and hope for a chance in overtime penalty kicks. For the second straight match, the strategy worked. The Saints knocked in three as their counterparts’ shots sailed wide.
Amato recalled telling his team they had one shot in ten to beat the Maroon in a pre-game pep talk. Satisfied with the win, he readily admits the odds were much worse. The last time they met, SSSA fell 2-0 to an Episcopal squad hungry for a third straight VISAA title.
Theyre more athletic, they live together, they play together all the time and theyre a phenomenal team… if theyd beaten us Im pretty sure theyd win [another title], he said. I actually feel bad in a way. They would have won it and its going to be a reach for us to win it, but my boys will offer a try.
If Amato sticks to his thus far game-winning stratagem, Saints goalkeeper Ryan Huddleston can expect to see a few more shots headed his way. He saw plenty defending against Episcopal’s high-performing offense, but his acrobatics kept the championship-caliber team at bay.
We didn’t have much style, but it’s all about defense when it comes down the whistle, he said. I’ve learned to adapt to it and you’ve got to go with the end result.
Still, as Amato crossed fingers for a chance at overtime penalty kicks, the Saints may have had a little bit of luck. If you ask Episcopal’s Ross Higgins, a junior midfielder, it’s the only way to explain all the missed opportunities.
Then again, it could have been the game plan, he said. There wasn’t much the Maroon could do against so many defenders.
For Higgins, the snapping of the win streak, a prematurely shortened season and a loss to an local rival doesn’t compare with shelving the shin guards and cleats.
I’m just really upset and a lot of people would think it’s because of the three-year streak, he said. The people I’ve been playing with for two years are the best around. Team chemistry is really strong that’s what kept us going through the past three years.
As the Saints head on to the semi-finals in Richmond, Amato knows former opponents Higgans and his teammates will be rooting for SSSA to win it all. His squad would be doing the same thing were the roles reversed.
We’re probably the one team theyd want to lose to. Even though its the biggest rivalry, they are going to wish us success just as we were going to wish them success, he said. Youve got to take your hat of to them, theyre just phenomenal… Were rivals, but we definitely respect them.