Six unanswered goals in the second half guided Northwestern to a 9-2 win over the Rock Hill boys in the first round of the Class AAAA state soccer playoffs Tuesday night. The Bearcats (9-11), a wild-card entry into the state tournament, wobbled the No. 1 seeded hosts with an early goal, but Austin Newman scored a hat trick and Erwin Salazar added a goal and set up three more to help Northwestern (19-1-1) into a Thursday matchup at home against Riverside.
At halftime “we had a few choice words, especially for our defensive unit about the way we were defending set pieces and man-marking,” said Northwestern coach Dom Wren. “We told them if you get your defense right, the offense was in place. And in the second half we were a different team.”
After a first half that neither side’s defense will put on its resume, the Trojans ran riot in the game’s latter 40 minutes.
“It was magical to watch,” said Wren. “The passing, the movement off the ball, the decision-making and the unselfishness was phenomenal.”
It was an abrupt end to a night that had started very well for the Trojans’ cross-town rival.
“They really came out with a lot of energy and played well,” Rock Hill coach Wayne Clark said of his team. “Northwestern at Northwestern in the playoffs is gonna be a difficult task any time. They have a good team, they’re really organized, they’re well coached, and they just kept coming.”
The Trojans had to after the Bearcats’ sizzling start. The visitors were in front after barely a minute. Rong Taing thumped home Joel Watson’s knockdown in the box from close range to put Rock Hill up 1-0.
Northwestern equalized through Salazar. The influential sophomore was released into space by Connor Moore and his teasing cross was deflected by a Rock Hill defender into his own goal to make it 1-1. Ten minutes later, the Trojans took the lead on the Bearcats’ second own goal of the first half, after the visitors failed to clear four straight corner kicks and eventually headed past the wrong keeper.
At 2-1 Northwestern looked likely to push on, but Rock Hill nabbed an unexpected equalizer and Watson was again involved. Chase Perrin’s free kick from midfield fell into the box and Watson was there to meet it, stabbing the ball into the corner to make it 2-2 with six minutes left in the first.
But Rock Hill’s defending was its undoing and it allowed a crucial goal just before the half that shifted the momentum back to the Trojans. Alex Clary denied a close range Northwestern shot but Newman was on hand to prod home the first of his three just before the break.
“We had one or two breakdowns,” said Clark, “and those types of things when you’re playing a team like this makes it difficult in the playoffs.”
Perhaps Newman’s goal was a foreshadowing as ominous as the actual storm building in the sky, because when the whistle blew for the second 40 minutes, it was on. Julian Welborn served warning with a swirling shot that Clary just got a hand to before smothering the loose rebound.
The fourth came soon though, and it was no surprise that Salazar was the architect. He skinned his man on the left wing and served in a low ball that Dylan Davis stepped over, leaving Newman the simplest of finishes from several yards out to make it 4-2.
“You get that first goal, the morale just picks up,” said Newman, a hard charging, bustling dynamo of a striker. “It just feels good to keep going like that.”
The rain never came, but the goals sure did. Two minutes later, Salazar again provided from the left. His cross was half-cleared but only as far as Davis who drove the ball into the low right corner for a 5-2 Trojan lead. Salazar then got the goal his performance deserved when Newman chased down a long ball, drove a diagonal pass into the box and the sophomore met it with the outside of his boot, the shot finding the back of the net via the underside of the bar for a 6-2 cushion.
“He’s an old fashioned winger, and I love me an old fashioned winger,” said Wren about Salazar. “That ball is just like glued to his foot. He was brilliant tonight.”
Salazar then capped off a match-winning effort by beating his man on the wing and squaring for Welborn, who finished in the corner. Jakari Golden and Sunny Hall wrapped up the Trojans’ scoring with late strikes that glossed the scoreline. Golden even picked up a yellow card for his exuberant celebration, though on this night nobody seemed to care.
Despite Salazar and Newman’s headlining efforts, “There was no man of the match,” according to Wren. “They were all fantastic in the second half, so that’s the biggest compliment I can pay them.”
Note: Thursday’s other Class AAAA boys’ soccer second round matchups are Nation Ford at Dorman and Fort Mill at J.L. Mann.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T