A 14-game win streak ended with a 6-2 loss to Shelby, which knocked the Eagles out of the playoffs last year, too. Central finishes the year 21-3-2.
In his eight years as head coach, Blake Roth has led his team to soccer’s Final Four, but has yet to reach the title game. While proud of the way his team has played this year, he and his team were hurting after another close call.
Other coaches from the Northwest Conference approached Roth after the game to say what a fine job he did with the squad.
The Eagles drew first blood, but after an injury substitution, the Golden Lions scored two quick goals to take a lead it would never relinquish.
“We’re not used to being scored on twice that quickly,” Roth admitted, saying the team looked a little shaken up. In the second half, another quick scenario saw two goals scored in a minute and a half.
“If we had timeouts in this sport, I think we could’ve won the game,” he said. He wanted to stop the momentum and regroup his team, but couldn’t. He used two different goalkeepers, and some players switched positions on the fly, but Central couldn’t get enough shots on goal in the second half.
Fourteen minutes into the first half, Shelby’s best player, Jerry Zeller, was chasing a ball toward Central’s goal, freshman keeper Artemio Cortes rushed forward and grabbed the ball, but Zeller’s sliding kick attempt caught him in the left thigh, putting Cortes out for the rest of the first half. Some in attendance thought Zeller should have been red-carded, but the officials decided on a yellow card.
Two minutes later with Zeller on the sidelines, Central scored as Bernardo Leandro kicked in an assist from Orlando Perez.
The new keeper, senior Julio Flores, jumped for a high kick, but couldn’t quite bring it in for a score at 14:52 left in the half. Just 1:20 later, another kick toward the goal bounced off several players before squeezing past Flores to give Shelby a 2-1 lead it took into the half. Central trailed, but had more shots on goal in the first period.
During halftime, Roth told his team that Shelby couldn’t stop their attack up top so they needed to press forward. However, in the first 5 minutes of the second half, Central couldn’t get the ball across midfield as Zeller and Michael McLaughlin pushed the ball toward the Eagles goal.
Cortes, back in the game, was able to stop one shot on goal with a sliding block off his legs.
Shelby was executing well and kept Central off the attack, Roth said, while his own squad seemed to lose focus and discipline.
Seven minutes into the half, Shelby scored to go up 3-1, then just 43 seconds later, Shelby had a breakaway play. Cortes made another diving stop, but the ball caromed off his leg, and a Shelby player knocked it back in for a 4-1 lead with 32:36 remaining. The Lions scored twice more before Leonel Perez got a late goal for the final 6-2 margin.
When the lead was getting out of reach, the Eagles looked out of synch, and a couple of players shoved Lion players. Roth said he subbed in for some of the players and told them, “Look, you’re going to lose. But you’re seniors so go out there and do it with some dignity.”
While the loss was hard, Roth said he reminded himself that Surry Central won only 17 games combined the first two seasons he was coach. This group of seniors combined for 44 wins, including eight playoff wins, the past two years.
Shelby, with an identical 21-3-2 record, didn’t have an easy road to reach the finals. It beat Starmount when the Rams were ranked sixth in the state, second-ranked Forbush, and Surry Central which is ranked third.