Clover’s unexpectedly deep run in the Class AAAA boys soccer playoffs came to an unexpectedly decisive end Tuesday night, and it didn’t take long for it to happen.
J.L. Mann scored a pair of quick goals in the first 10 minutes en route to a 6-0 win in the Upper State championship game, earning a berth in Saturday’s state championship game.
“It’s tough, but they were an incredibly good side,” Clover coach Khrys Dundr said. “Any time there’s six goals, obviously it has a lot more to do with them.”
Dundr said in scouting Mann, it became clear it was on par with some of the Northwestern and Irmo teams of recent years which achieved state and national recognition.
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That made the margin of error minuscule , and the early margin made it impossible.
“We talked about coming out strong, and well, we didn’t,” Dundr said. “You can’t give back one goal against a team like this, much less two.”
For Clover (17-5), the loss was a brutal punctuation on a tremendous season, which included a region title and a regular season sweep of Northwestern, and playoff wins over traditional powers such as Irmo and Wren.
“We played hard tonight, and that’s the thing I’m proudest of, it would have been easy to quit, and they didn’t,” Dundr said. “This is still the deepest we’ve ever been in the state tournament, we had some great wins over the course of the year, and it doubles or triples some of the win totals earlier this decade.
“It’s probably going to take a few days to get over it, but we will.”
The Blue Eagles’ biggest problem was that the Patriots were able to match their offensive talent like for like.
Leading scorer Lucas Coutinho, who entered the game with 29 goals, was held in check by Mann’s John Cajka, who has committed to play at Clemson next fall.
Without that spark, the Blue Eagles lacked enough burst to pull off a miracle as they had against Irmo, when two goals in the second half erased at 1-0 halftime deficit to get them to this point.
Mann opened the action quickly, taking an early lead while both teams were struggling to establish an identity.
Senior captain Curtis Wallin crossed a sharp ball to senior Nicky Watson, who slotted home the opener easily. That one seemed to rattle Clover, which looked shaky from the start.
In the 10th minute, Mann’s Stephen Reinke worked his way deep into the box, sliding one past Clover keeper Robert Schreiner from close range.
The talented freshman keeper had been sharp in the playoffs, but gave up more goals in the first 10 minutes than he had in the entire postseason (just one in three wins).
The Patriots (22-2-1) hit the frame twice more in the next 10 minutes, controlling possession throughout the first half.
With two minutes left in the first half, Mann’s James Campbell scored on a header from a free kick to make it 3-0.
It got worse quickly in the second half, with Mann scoring twice in the first three minutes, with Aubrey Jones getting the first and Watson adding his 24th of the season for the brace before being subbed out to a standing ovation by the home crowd.
Mann’s Alex Watson took advantage of an unorganized defense to make it 6-0, volleying home a rebound for a score that caused Mann to clear the bench to get reserves playing time.