Fort Mill boys’ soccer’s self-styled “Thunder and Lightning” helped the Yellow Jackets to a 4-1 first round playoff win over Mauldin on Tuesday.
Austin Cassidy scored a hat-trick and Jonathan Cutrone added a goal and an assist to power Fort Mill (22-3-1) into a Thursday home matchup with Blythewood in the second round of the Class 4A postseason.
Cassidy seemed to provide the thunder with three sturdy finishes, while Cutrone darted through the Mauldin (15-10-1) defense, playing the part of lightning … one would assume.
“Well, he’s ‘Lightning,’ ” Cutrone said after the win, nodding toward Cassidy. “I’m ‘Thunder.’ ”
The fourth-ranked Yellow Jackets needed both Tuesday, because, befitting the thick heat, they started slowly. Fort Mill played too directly, hitting a number of long passes into the arms of Mauldin keeper Tyler Melson. The Mavericks were a little more clever, using diagonal runs to get behind Fort Mill’s high defensive line. One such move helped Mauldin into the lead with 16 minutes left in the first half. Jake Fuller nipped in behind Fort Mill’s rearguard and poked past keeper Randall Phillips and into the net for a 1-0 advantage.
The Yellow Jackets eventually came to life and took a halftime lead. Cutrone slipped Cassidy in on goal, but Mauldin defender Scott Austin stepped across in time to take the sting out of the shot. Cassidy carved out another chance about a minute later, showing smart feet on the right side of the penalty area to cut back inside, before blasting over left-footed from about 12 yards away.
Fort Mill coach Lloyd Chalker implored his team to use finesse in the box, and it was a feathered shot that gave the Yellow Jackets the breakthrough with about eight minutes left. Cutrone, who will play for Winthrop this fall, received the ball with a defender on his back at the edge of the 18, spun, and chipped a left-footed effort over Melson that nestled into the right corner of the goal.
“It was pretty instinctive,” said Cutrone, who shaved his head bald for the playoffs, just as he did two years ago during Fort Mill’s Class AAA state title run. “I knew I was gonna turn and hit it before I got the ball.”
“Once we got that, we got our confidence back,” said Chalker. “And then Austin scored, and we just played more like we normally do.”
Fort Mill headed into the halftime shade in better spirits after Cassidy put them in front in the last minute. Cutrone skipped onto Keegan Downie’s deflected cross and sent a low shot goalward. Cassidy stuck out his left peg and redirected the ball past Melson for a 2-1 advantage.
“Two goals at a bad time for us when one of our starting backs went down,” said Mauldin coach Joe Siatkowski. “He matched up extremely well with their No. 10 (Cutrone). Then (Cutrone) started to dictate the pace of the game.”
Fort Mill continued to surge in the second half. Cassidy nudged the ball past a pair of defenders before firing through Melson’s legs to make it 3-1. And Cassidy grabbed his hat-trick midway through the second half after Mason Strohl danced through a couple of tackles and touched a ball to the waiting striker. Cassidy made no mistake, slamming a shot through Melson’s palm and into the corner for a 4-1 lead.
Mauldin might have made the game a bit more nervy in the second half but for two spot-lit misses. Fuller again toe-poked the ball past Phillips, only for Fort Mill’s Kevin Brown to recover and force a hasty shot that flew wide of the empty net. And with about five minutes left Mauldin captain Chris Weekes got on the wrong side of another Fort Mill high line, but could only scuff his shot wide of the target with Phillips at his mercy.