LEXINGTON — Saturday’s Class AAAA boys soccer championship matchup between defending state champion and top-ranked Wando and third-ranked J.L. Mann was everything it was cracked up to be.
The lone goal scored in the game between two powerhouses came from the Gatorade Player of the Year — Michele Bottari of J.L. Mann — and the Patriots unseated Wando atop of the AAAA heap with a 1-0 victory at River Bluff High.
Wando (25-2) was seeking its fourth state title in the last five years while J.L. Mann (22-2) captured its first AAAA crown after winning two titles in Class AAA — the last being in 2010.
“Time and time and time again, we had our chances, but if you don’t put the ball in the back of the net, you don’t win,” said Wando coach Shilo Tisdale. “It’s a game of luck sometimes, and they got the better end of it tonight. They were a good team. They got here, so we knew it would be a challenge.”
Both teams had solid scoring chances in a scoreless first half, and the defensive stalemate continued into the second half.
The Patriots got on the board in the 52nd minute when Bottari, a Clemson signee, scored off a pass from Drake Byrd for a 1-0 lead. The goal was Bottari’s 33rd of the season.
After the score by Bottari, Wando upped the pressure offensively, narrowly missing on two chances in a two-minute period midway through the second half. J.L. Mann’s defense, which allowed only 18 goals all season, staved off a pair of corner kick opportunities in the 68th minute. Most of the final six minutes were played deep in Mann’s end of the field.
“We kept getting chance after chance, it’s haunting,” said Tisdale. “We can’t fault our effort. We can’t say we didn’t have our chances. It just didn’t happen for us tonight.”
Wando advanced to the finals after surviving hard-fought playoff victories over Irmo and River Bluff in the last week. Tisdale says his team was mentally prepared for the finals.
“We were definitely focused and we were ready physically,” said Tisdale. “I could not be more proud of these guys. We had a great season, but it’s certainly disappointing right now. We have a lot of younger guys and we are certainly excited about next year.”