Academic Magnet’s soccer program was on full display on Friday, as both the boys and girls programs competed for the Class AA state championships at Irmo High School.
And the recent dominance of both programs continued as each won state championships. The boys team bested St. Joseph’s 4-3 in penalty kicks, in a game that was scoreless after 110 minutes of play.
The girls team also took a while to score but found two goals in the final 14 minutes to beat Southside Christian 2-1.
The boys game turned into a monumental battle of keepers as Academic Magnet sophomore Benji Vazquez and St. Joseph’s Conner Stein each recorded remarkable saves. Vazquez proved to be a little better in the penalty kick phase, turning away three shots, including the game clincher to set up the winner.
Bryan Bracy delivered the game-winning score, beating Klein with a shot to the corner.
“Hat’s off to St. Joe’s because they played great,” said Raptors coach Jason Hamil, who has won five titles in the last seven years. “We kept going at them over and over and they had an answer for everything we did. Defensively, they were so organized. It’s a tough way to lose a game but hat’s off to my kids. Hat’s off to Benji Vazquez. What a battle it was. It’s such a great feeling. I am so proud of my kids.”
Vazquez opened the penalty kick contest with save and Jackson Bracy scored on his attempt. Liam Kelly beat Vazquez to knot the score and Academic Magnet’s Dylan Odell missed wide on his attempt.
Vazquez again batted away an attempt and the Raptors went ahead 2-1 on a kick by Adam Ziff. Andrew Armstrong scored for the Knights but the Raptors went up 3-2, on Sam Maher’s goal.
Nathan Meglic tied the score with a goal and Stein batted away Nick Price’s attempt, leaving the score tied at three.
Vazquez then recorded his third save of the penalty kick, setting up Bracy’s winner.
“It’s not me, it’s the team,” Vazquez said. “Nervous? I wouldn’t say nervous because I do it a lot. I don’t want to sound cocky but I think I’m good at it.”
Academic Magnet’s girls team overcame 65 minutes of frustration, scoring twice in the final 14 minutes, to repeat as the Class AA state champions with a 2-1 win over Southside Christian. It was the program’s sixth title in the eight seasons, including five of the last six.
The Raptors (22-4-1) scored the game-winner with less than three minutes remaining in the contest when Riane Coman centered a pass to Meredith Gee, who finished the play with a shot to the left corner. It was only Gee’s second goal of the season.
“I really can’t explain it,” Gee said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Coman, who has scored 52 goals this season, was the focus defensively of the Sabres, who lost for the first time this season. The University of South Carolina commitment admits to getting somewhat frustrated during the contest but kept her head in the game, hoping for an opportunity.
“It all comes down to our work ethic and our ability to keep grinding it out,” Coman said. “I’m not going to lie, I did get frustrated. But this is a team sport and I am committed to this team. Meredith Gee is my best friend and I could not be happier for her. We are a true team, a true family. It’s a real thing, not just words.”
Southside Christian came into the finals having allowed only seven goals all season and keeper Carolina Stewart had yielded only five. Raptors coach Alister DeLong said patience was the key.
“I can’t say enough about these girls, a true team effort,” DeLong said. “We found a way to win. We’re a second-half team. We were okay with where we were (being down one). It took us a little time to get acclimated to the turf and we settled down and played well.
“We kept mis-connecting on some things. We just kept grinding. Riane was frustrated but she stayed in the game and had a big effect. Everyone knows Riane. Southside had a good game plan. They’re a good team. We knew this would be a very close game. We knew we were in for a battle.”
Southside Christian took a 1-0 lead on Mary Kate Wyer’s 44th goal of the season midway through the first half.
The Raptors evened the match on Anna Grace Maher’s free kick from just outside the box in the 66th minute.
Stewart came up big with save in the 75th minute, knocking down an open look from Molly Dickerson. But the Raptors kept the pressure on offensively, setting up the winner three minutes later.