Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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June 4, 2014

Stormy Knights

Graham’s state hopes dashed by James River

EAST RIVER — The Graham G-Men’s quest for a state soccer championship came to an end Wednesday night as the James River Knights weathered a delay in the action and a furious second half G-Men charge to claim a 4-3 win in the Virginia Region 2A-West semifinal at the East River Soccer Complex.

The visitors from Buchanan, Va., utilized their speed early in the match. Tyler Rocha scored the game’s first goal five minutes in when he drove to the left of the net and kicked it past Graham keeper Brody Dawson for the score. James River added a second goal four minutes later when the ball deflected off a Graham player and into the net.

The G-Men got on the board when Nate Figueroa scored in the 27th minute. Sam Stowers got the assist on the play.

A boisterous crowd representing both schools was on hand to cheer on their respective teams in the contest. That crowd went silent when Graham’s Jon Figueroa took a ball to the face and went to the turf. Figueroa received attention and walked off the field under his own power, but did not return to action.

James River extended its lead to 3-1 when Rocha scored his second goal of the night, a kick from close-in, in front of the goal. The Knights got a final goal with only one second remaining in the half when the speedy Chase Haynes dribbled the ball down the field and found the back of the net to give his squad a 4-1 advantage at the intermission.

Graham came out of the locker room renewed and charged in the second half.  Two-and-a-half minutes in Alex Aiello fired in a shot from 20 yards out that looped over the keeper’s head for the score.

The G-Men continued their pressing, aggressive play and had several shots that bounded off the post or were saved by the James River goalkeeper. In the 16th minute of the final half Stowers scored from close range to pull the G-Men to within a goal at 4-3.

The play took place for the majority of the second half in front of the James River goal. Graham pressed and the Knights pulled all their players back to play defense.

Then with 9:10 to play in the game lightning flashed and the teams were sent to the dressing rooms and fans evacuated to their cars as a mandatory 30-minute delay began. Another flash at 9:30 resent the delay clock to 30 minutes. Finally at 9:05, after a stoppage of one hour and 10 minutes, the teams retook the field.

Just as prior to the interruption, Graham was the aggressor. The G-Men pushed, but James River, with 10 players on defense, packed the box and prevented Graham from tying the game and escaping with the win.

“I think the delay took away the momentum that we had. We had them on their heels,” said Graham coach George Aiello. “I saw them bent over and their hands on their hips, tired, and that delay hurt because we were shoving the ball down their throats at the time and they packed it in.

“They had nine, 10 guys playing defense and we were still able to score two quick goals out of halftime. I think the delay hurt us.”

James River coach Jared Whiting said, “We started out strong, we were playing our game and mentally we fell out of our game. I don’t know if it was the pressure of regions, we just fell out of our game.

“The lightning came and that helped us. It gave us a little bit of focus. They came out with a different game plan and it was just intensity and guts at the end. It was a great game. We can play better than we did, we just have to learn from tonight and move on to tomorrow.”

The Knights play Martinsville, 3-0 winners over Gate City for the regional championship. The site of that game has not been announced as it is expected to be played at a location closer to both schools than Bluefield.

“I’m so proud of these boys, all of them,” Coach Aiello said. “They’re young. Eighteen of the 23 are freshmen and sophomores. They’ve done an incredible job. They’ve worked hard. I don’t think anyone expected us to do what we did.

“At one time in the season we were 3-3 and we finished the year 15-5. We won nine games in a row at one point and we beat some teams the school hasn’t beaten in a very long time, Galax and Abingdon. They had a lot of success and bright spots this year.”

— Contact Bob Redd at bredd@bdtonline.com, Twitter @bdtredd

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