COLUMBIA — Finally reaching the mountain top, Fort Mill High claimed its first boys state soccer title in the nearly 30-year history of the program by beating Hilton Head 3-1 in the Class AAA championship at Memorial Stadium in Columbia Saturday.
Propelled by two goals from senior captain Kevin Fielden, the Jackets, ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the season, held the Seahawks to just five shots on goal for the game, while relying on a strong defense and an energetic offense that took 15 shots at Hilton Head keeper Mike Ritterbeck.
Our goal at the beginning of the season was to get to this point and win, said Fort Mill coach Lloyd Chalker. We had never been here before, much less won the Upper State.
Hilton Head was ranked sixth in the state coming into the game. After dropping the first three games of their season, the Seahawks had rattled off 17 wins in a row to reach Saturdays title game.
The game was a defensive battle in the first half, except for a few breakdowns by each squad.
Fort Mill controlled the ball for the first 10 minutes of the game. As strong as they were, Hilton Head was just as strong defensively, crowding the box and not allowing the Jackets any opportunities to shoot.
Fielden, who will play at the University of Pittsburgh next season, put Fort Mill on the board about 14 minutes into the game as he broke away down the middle of the field after being fed by sophomore Austin Cassidy Catching keeper Ritterbeck coming out to try and stop him, Fielden went left and then shot for the easy score.
After the initial goal, neither team was able to establish much dominance. Fort Mill got several close attempts at goals, taking several long-distance shots, but couldnt capitalize, and struggled to get any close range attempts.
With about 10 minutes left in the half and on its only real possession, Hilton Head caught Fort Mill off guard on a breakaway down the middle of the field, as junior Chris MacMurray faked out Jackets keeper Randall Phillips to tie the game up at 1.
They did a good job taking us out of our game in the first half, Chalker said. We played a much better match in the second half.
In the second half, Fort Mill continued to struggle early to get close enough to get any shot attempts. On the other end of the ball, they were able to contain Hilton Head from taking control of the game.
It took some time, but the Jackets finally broke out of their funk and turned on the offense.
With about 25 minutes left, sophomore Jonathan Cutrone and the Jackets would catch a break as his shot got deflected off a Seahawks defender and into the goal to give the lead back to Fort Mill.
Three minutes later, Fielden again worked his magic, launching a shot from about 45 yards out on a free kick sailing just out of the reach of Ritterbeck and into the back of the net.
I wasnt trying to get it in, Fielden said. I was just trying to get a header. Its the greatest feeling in the world. Im so excited. Its a great way to end my high school career.
Fort Mill was able to hold off a panicking Hilton Head team who had a couple of free kicks in the remaining eight minutes but failed to convert.
Chalker said he couldnt be more proud of the team and how they have worked all year.
Kevin has been the heart and soul of this team from day one, he said. Jonathan (Cutrone) has played wonderfully in the playoffs and Randall (Phillips) has really come through the last couple of games. Everybody kept telling me we could make a run.
Fort Mill 3, Hilton Head 1
FM Kevin Fielden 14:00, assist Austin Cassidy
HH Chris MacMurray 31:18, assist Bennett Murphy
FM Jonathan Cutrone 55:41
FM Fielden 58:52
Shots on goal: Fort Mill 15, Hilton Head 5.
Saves: Randall Phillips 1 (FM), Mike Ritterbeck 5 (HH).
Corner kicks: Fort Mill 4, Hilton Head 2.
Records: Fort Mill 25-3-0, Hilton Head 17-4-0.