BECKLEY — After years of close calls, near misses and tough losses, the Winfield boys soccer program finally had its day.
And now it has its own boys soccer state championship to go with it.
A pair of goals from senior midfielder Evan McCray, a third from Braxton Vanscoy and some crisp, efficient second-half passing led the Generals (24-0-1) to the program’s first state championship, defeating East Fairmont 3-1 in the Class AA-A title tilt Saturday at Paul Cline Memorial Sports Complex.
It could’ve easily been three straight titles for the Generals after losing just three games across the past three seasons. But bitter losses over the last two seasons — a sectional upset loss to St. Joseph in 2016 and an overtime loss to eventual champion Nitro in a regional match a year ago — kept Winfield out of the tournament field.
But those losses melted away during the hectic scrum that followed the final horn on Saturday, and players and coaches alike agreed that the bitter end of the past two years made Saturday even sweeter.
“That loss to St. Joe, it was hard to sleep for weeks after that loss,” Winfield coach Mike Foster admitted. “An undefeated season, lost to a team we’d beat 4-1 in the regular season, and then losing to Nitro last year in overtime — I thought we’d played a better game and that was hard to swallow too.”
“The year we lost to St. Joe, that’s stuck in my mind for two years,” McCray added. “I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. Then the game last year was heartbreaking, but to see them win a state championship really made me want to win a state championship. It made us work a lot harder this year and we got it done.”
McCray put Winfield up early with a penalty kick after the Bees (18-1-2) were called for a handball in the box. East Fairmont answered with 17:54 left in the half on a goal from Corey Fluharty before Vanscoy came through with a tally with 4:36 remaining to give the Generals a 2-1 halftime advantage.
But more impressive than any goal scored may have been Winfield’s ability to effectively deal with the Bees’ offensive urgency. The Generals were able to maintain possession in the midfield with controlled passing, and when East Fairmont did extend forward, Winfield was able to fill vacated spaces and construct attacks of its own. That led to McCray’s second goal with exactly five minutes left, serving as the dagger that sent the Generals on their way.
“They were giving us lots of space in the middle and making it easy for us to pass out and back in,” Foster explained. “And then they started pressing up on us a little bit and that’s when we got our third goal. They had to press up and that opened up the back, which we hadn’t had the whole game, and then we buried that one.”
The Bees are stocked with plenty of weapons on the front end as well, primarily Fluharty, who registered a hat trick in a 3-2 win over Charleston Catholic in a semifinal on Friday.
But East Fairmont could not find much of anything against the Generals down the stretch when it needed it. Bees coach Tristan Wierbonski praised the Generals’ execution in the second half.
“We knew coming in that they were going to have a nice midfield,” Wierbonski said. “They’re well organized, they really work well team-chemistry-wise, so they knew where exactly they were going to go. They forced us into tough situations and luckily we were able to counter at times, but their movement off the ball — we knew going in they were going to do it but that’s what hurt us the most. We weren’t able to pick up that last person on the pressure and they were able to find that last person.”
East Fairmont goalie Joel Morris made several nice stops down the stretch, keeping the Bees in the game until McCray’s final tally finished the deed off.
For Winfield seniors like McCray, Ryan Shrewsbury, Coen Preston and others, who lived the postseason nightmares of the last two years alongside Foster, who just completed his eighth season, Saturday’s win was extra sweet and perhaps even overdue.
That emotion was present in Foster, who had to compose himself a bit immediately after the win.
“Kind of unreal right now,” Foster said. “I just didn’t expect this this year. We had a lot of holes last year, I expected to maybe win 10 games, and we had a lot of things that had to fall into place and they did. I’m proud of these guys, they did a great job, tickled to death with them. They’re a team, not just individual players, they work together, no finger pointing — when someone is down they reach down to pick them up, that’s the kind of team this is.”