MOUNT PLEASANT - Kevin Wray may be a little young to fully understand the history behind the Wando-Irmo rivalry. The Warriors junior forward has heard the stories, though, and that’s plenty motivation.
“I just know it’s the biggest rivalry ever, just huge,” Wray said of a series that includes eight postseason collisions in the third round or deeper over the past 16 years. “My friends have told me stories about playing against them. They just said don’t lose to them, no matter what.”
Wray did his best to make sure that didn’t happen, scoring four goals to help Wando past Irmo 11-1 in the opening round of the Class AAAAA playoffs Tuesday.
The two-time defending state champion Warriors advance to host second-seeded River Bluff in the Lower State quarterfinals on Thursday.
“There’s a different mentality you have to have in the playoffs,” Wando coach Shilo Tisdale said. “It takes a killer instinct from start to finish, especially in a first-round game like this against a team like Irmo.”
Wando struggled to find the net early, pounding shots off the post or missing on opportune passes. The Warriors came alive in the final 10 minutes, though, scoring four unanswered goals to carry a 4-0 cushion into halftime.
“A lot of these guys haven’t been a part of this yet, so there was a lot of tension and nervousness early,” Tisdale said. “Once we got that first goal, and they know it can be done, that confidence starts to set in and we start to roll.”
Wray had an obvious goal waved off by the officials midway through the second half. Only after play had resumed did the officials stop the game to give the goal back to the Warriors. It was an odd scene, but the fire had already been lit. Wray added three more goals over the next seven minutes to lift Wando ahead 8-1 with less than 20 minutes remaining.
“I knew in my heart it was a goal, even if they didn’t call it right away,” Wray said. “The defenders were talking trash to me. It all just fired me up. I knew it was over after that. We were going to put them away.”
Wando rolled in its reserves late. The results didn’t change much. Lucca Ferreira finished with two goals and an assist. Sophomores Alex Heller and Matthew Pilley both scored the first goals of their high school careers.
“I remember my first few years coaching, having to watch my seniors get sent home at the end of their careers by these blonde heads,” Tisdale said referring to the Irmo tradition of players dying their hair blonde for the playoffs. “Those years aren’t forgotten. So there’s no mercy.”
River Bluff defeated Carolina Forest 5-0 in its postseason debut. Wando and River Bluff have met in the postseason each of the past four years, with the Warriors winning the past two.