By Brian Woodson
For The Register-Herald
It was uncharted territory for the Bluefield boys soccer program. It ended in defeat, but Tyler Brooks and the Beavers still found reason to smile.
“No other Bluefield team has ever done it so it was a big thing for us,” Brooks said, “and it made us happy.”
It should. When Bluefield’s 11 seniors were freshmen, the Beavers won all of two games. Three years later, and they made the school’s first ever trip to the Class AA-A State Soccer Tournament.
“We have always dreamed of it so when we started out this year that was our goal and we pushed to it and we finally got here,” Brooks said. “We are disappointed, but at the same time we are happy to have made it up here.”
Fairmont Senior (15-5-4) scored three first half goals — including the first two in a two-minute span — to defeat Bluefield 5-1 in the state semifinals on a sunny Tuesday afternoon at the Andrew Jordon Field at Trace Fork.
One of those seniors, J.T. Roberts, who played for Bluefield for the last three seasons, was pleased that the Beavers got so close to its ultimate goal.
“I never thought we would be able to do this, but this year we had a good group of seniors,” said Roberts, who was missing his jersey prior to the game, but freshman Josh Dudding offered him his, effectively removing his chance to play in the game. “We started to number (the games) in the middle of the year.
“We would always shout the number before each game and it was the games until the state championship game. We made it down to the second game before it so we are happy with that. I think this is a big step for the program and I think they will continue to win.”
Bluefield (15-6-2) had reached the state tournament after defeating PikeView in the final seconds in the sectionals, and beating Pocahontas County in four overtimes to claim the Region 3 title.
“We came into the game thinking we could win,” Roberts said. “We came this far already and to get beat by a team like that when you think you have a chance at the beginning and just get demolished is hard, but we are happy we made it this far...
“It is no secret that they come from a much tougher region for soccer than we do and I think they just out-classed us honestly. We definitely play a different brand of soccer in Bluefield.”
Fairmont, which will play undefeated Charleston Catholic (22-0-2) in the state finals today at 10 a.m., was able to score the game’s first goal on a penalty kick by Justin Sloan, which slipped past Bluefield goalkeeper Brandon Eldridge with 20:30 left in the opening half.
Charleston Catholic defeated Bridgeport 2-1 in the earlier semifinal.
“At the beginning of the game it took us a while to get going,” said Fairmont Senior head coach Jim DeNardi, whose Polar Bears lost 3-1 earlier this season to Charleston Catholic. “They got a couple of good opportunities on us early on. Once the boys got into the game, we started possessing and we were able to possess and kind of work the ball around to guys.
“I thought we could play this kind of game today and I am glad they did and that is why it turned out the way it did.”
Less than two minutes after that goal, the Polar Bears struck again, with Grant Holbert nailing a free kick from 45 yards away to the front of the net, where Fletcher DeVaul was able to use his head to slap the ball past Eldridge for the 2-0 lead.
A third Fairmont goal came from Brent Pacoe, who kicked the ball hard off Eldridge, and then put the deflection into the net with 4:19 on the clock.
“They got the one penalty kick 20 minutes in and that was tough to give up a penalty goal and the second goal was really questionable,” Bluefield head coach Robb Williams said. “I had heard from Brandon and everybody out there that he used his hands to knock it out of his hands, we talked to the ref about that and he really just shrugged his shoulders.
“You have got to play through those and that is what I told the guys and then we gave up another goal that really hurt us and going in 3-0 at half was tough.”
Fairmont had a 9-2 advantage in the opening 40 minutes in shots on goal.
“They are a real tough team, we knew that coming in,” Williams said. “We knew they would go to the outside and go out from in and we had practiced that, but unfortunately they were equally as fast and very physical and a good team and we knew that.
“We couldn’t sustain that and they really pushed about seven up on offense and when they did that they overwhelmed us.”
Comeback hopes were quickly dashed for Bluefield four minutes into the second half on a goals by Alec Wadsworth, who used his head to deflect a corner kick by Ryan Rosier into the net. That was followed by Logan Demyon, who skipped a ball past Eldridge for the 5-0 lead with 36 minutes left in the game.
Bluefield had made a habit of rallying from behind during the season, but not this time.
“We played very well the second half, I thought we had more chances, typically we are like that, we have played like that all year,” Williams said. “We played soft kind of in the first halves and we were usually better than everyone we played so we were able to make it up in the second half.
“When you play teams like Fairmont that are really good like that, you can’t do that and that is what got us today.”
Bluefield, which had just eight shots on goal to 21 for the Polar Bears, finally got on the board when Justin Phillips got loose in front of the net and kicked the ball past goalkeeper Matthew Bartrug with 24:38 on the clock.
That would be all of the scoring, as the 11 Bluefield seniors played their final games on the pitch, including Roberts, who nearly didn’t get to play at all until Dunning sacrificed for the team.
“At the hotel this morning I couldn’t find my jersey,” Roberts said. “Jon Brown went around asking if someone wanted to give up their jersey for J.T. and a freshman, Josh Dudding, gave me my jersey so I could play.
“That was a very selfless act.”
DeNardi, who had only three players who were part of Fairmont’s last trip to the state tournament, understood the enormity of the situation that may have been felt by the Beavers, who had never reached this level before.
“It is tough, the kids don’t think about it, but when that whistle blows and it hits you what is going on, I am sure it was a little difficult for them...” DeNardi said. “They did a good job, they have got some players out there.
“I think if they keep working at it they will develop their program a little bit better.”
Not a problem. Despite the loss of so many seniors, Williams and assistant coach Tim Roberts are confident the Beavers could be back.
“It has been a really good experience for these boys, there are 21 young men in there and they have done something no other Bluefield High School student has done,” Williams said. “That is why Tim and I do what we do.
“It is not for anything, but to see the smiles on their faces. Obviously there are some tears in there from the loss, but they played really hard and I am proud of them and I know everybody at the school and in Mercer County is as well.”
Williams will be back. J.T. Roberts will not. He has memories to last a lifetime.
“The fact that we made it here,” said Roberts, when asked what he will remember most. “That these 11 seniors made it this far, we were able to do this together as a team.”
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