Mustangs’ Grueling Home Stretch Ends in Reunion with State Title

June 13, 2018 8:44 PM0 comments

A STELLAR SAVE from senior goalkeeper Ethan Morse on a penalty kick negated Giles High School from entering halftime with a 1-0 margin in the Class 2 state title game on June 9. Morse’s heroics helped steady the Mustangs all throughout their state playoff run. (Photo: Courtesy Ned Quill)

A long, title-less year is no more as George Mason High School’s boys soccer team clinched its sixth Class 2 state championship in the past nine years to retake its seat atop the state’s soccer throne.

Not even two weeks ago it appeared Mason (22-1-1) would cruise its way to redemption. That was until a 3-0 loss to Robert E. Lee High School in the Region 2B championship followed by a win-or-go-home road game against longtime rival Maggie Walker’s Governor’s School in the state quarterfinal splashed cold water on that idea.

It was no doubt a shock to the system. But even though their season’s dosage of adversity was backlogged until the final week, it made the reaching the pinnacle that much sweeter.

“We had the toughest draw in the state – Maggie Walker, Lee and Giles – all three are great teams,” Mason head coach Frank Spinello said. “To shut out all three was the best way for us to prove that we deserve to raise the Cup and bring it back to Falls Church again.”

Up first was the team’s rematch with Lee on June 8. The Leemen had become a newfound rival for the Mustangs by stopping their title run in the regional opener last year and swiping this year’s regional championship from them just a week earlier. But there was one key difference between the previous two matches against Lee and last weekend’s state semifinal: senior goalkeeper Ethan Morse.

Class of 2017 graduate Walker Hegadorn allowed the lone goal to the Leemen last season and freshman goalkeeper Zain Hameed manned the net on June 1 in relief of Morse. But Morse’s acrobatic presence between the posts stabilized a Mustang team high on emotion and hungry to evict the skeletons from their closet. From point-blank saves to punching out looming crosses, Morse anchored a first half against Lee where both team’s offenses struggled.

The strong showing from Morse and the backline enabled Mason’s offense to play with more abandon once the second half got underway. In the 48th minute, senior midfielder Carlos Mercado’s through ball to senior forward Peter Scardino set up his left-footed shot that glanced off Lee’s goalkeeper and into the twine. It was the first time all season the Leemen trailed.

Mason sensed their opponent was rattled and kept the heat on. Two minutes later, freshman midfielder Declan Quill rifled a 25-yard shot that was too hot for Lee’s goalkeeper to handle and allowed sophomore forward Zorhan Boston to swoop in for the rebound goal to go up 2-0. The Mustangs’ backline of senior Liam Fribley and juniors Miles Lankford and Bryan Villegas warded off the Leemen until the final whistle blew.

JUST AS NECESSARY as Morse’s superb stint in net was the timely offense from defender-turned-striker sophomore Zorhan Boston (far left). It was Boston’s header on a corner kick from sophomore midfielder Cole Hellert soon after that broke the game’s 0-0 tie, deflated a spirited Giles team and energized Mason’s state title win. (Photo: Courtesy Ned Quill)

The jubilation from thwarting Lee gave Mason a hangover in their decisive state-title match against Giles High School the next day. Morse was tested early and often, and even though he was on his game, he still needed to bailed out by Bryan Villegas twice to preserve the scoreless tie.

Giles kept pounding away at the Mustangs and eventually earned themselves a penalty kick. Given that teams convert penalty kicks roughly three quarters of the time, it appeared Morse would finally be bested. But a subtle move to his left before lunging right and firmly landing two hands on the shot ensured Mason would stay even with Giles at the half.

For the second time in two days, Mason came out of the break jonesing to score and quickly got their fix. In the 46th minute, sophomore midfielder Cole Hellert lobbed a corner kick over Giles’ goalkeeper and right onto Boston’s head, which he knocked in. It was Boston’s 13th goal of the postseason as he’s scored in every Mason playoff game this spring.

Shortly after Boston broke the seal, Quill kept the trend going by converting a penalty kick to go up 2-0. By mixing in Spinello’s “reinforcements” the Mustangs were able to wear down Giles while Mercado’s late penalty kick secured the 3-0 win.

“Morse was the clear MVP of the state tournament,” Spinello said, adding that Morse recorded 21 saves and three shutouts in the state tournament and racked up 17 total shutouts for the season. “He played like a man against boys and made the difference in each match.”

Mason’s return to the top was one of its most harrowing in recent memory, making this year’s trophy all the more memorable to those involved.

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