POINT PLEASANT — For all the talk and statistics pointing toward a weakened Winfield offense, junior striker Braxton Vanscoy is still a weapon that defenses can’t afford to lose tabs on.
Given the slightest space to work, Vanscoy can make defenses pay and so it was again on Tuesday.
Vanscoy’s creativity on the offensive front – and the resulting four goals that came with it — was the difference in a 4-0 victory for the Generals over host Point Pleasant in the Class AA-A Region 4 championship game.
Winfield (19-1-4) will move on to the state semifinals held on Nov. 8 in Beckley as it continues its quest to defend the state championship it won a year ago. Point Pleasant ends its season at 13-4-5.
After losing four All-State players last year, Winfield has had to adjust, relying more on its experience-laden defense than ever before to continue the program’s winning ways.
And while that group was its normal stingy self on Tuesday, Vanscoy and company proved the team still has enough firepower to be a threat yet again next week.
“He’s got a tremendous amount of upside,” Winfield coach Mike Foster said of Vanscoy. “He just hadn’t showed it, but as the season has gone on he’s gotten better and better and he really had a heck of a game tonight. That first move he made for that first goal — he juked two guys and buried it — that was a heck of a play.”
“I couldn’t do it without my team,” Vanscoy added. “After that first one hit I felt like the momentum shifted and it was completely ours the rest of the game.”
Vanscoy’s first strike came relatively early as he worked through a one-on-one and converted with 28:56 remaining in the first half. The early shot of adrenaline fed the Generals, but Point was up to the challenge, putting together some runs and searching for an equalizer.
But with 8:42 left until the break, Jackson Zulauf carried the ball wide and found Vanscoy sprinting down the middle with a beautiful pass that Vanscoy buried in the back of the net.
The difference between a one-score and two-score lead in soccer is perhaps heavier than any other sport, and it landed like an anvil on the home team and home crowd.
“That definitely changed everything,” Vanscoy said. “And with our seniors in the back, we’re very good in the back.”
By the time Vanscoy fought through a pair of defenders and Point goalkeeper Nick Smith for a third goal with 34:13 remaining in the game, the mountain was far too high for the home team to climb.
He went on to add a fourth with 22:22 remaining and nearly had a fifth, but his penalty-kick attempt slipped wide right of the frame. It was about the only mistake he made on Tuesday.
The Generals were the only team of the remaining seven in the Kanawha Valley to have to play a true road game on Tuesday and, despite a hostile environment against a confident Point team that hadn’t lost at home, Winfield may have put together its most complete effort of the season.
“You’ve got to give these young men credit,” Foster said. “They came down here playing a team at home that hadn’t lost here all year and came in here and played a gutsy game. You’ve got to give them credit. From front to back, they played a complete game.”
Winfield outshot Point 9-3 with keeper Nathan Lanham stopping all three of those shots for his Kanawha Valley-leading 17th shutout. Smith had five saves.
For the Generals, who lost four All-State players a year ago and faced a lot of question marks heading into the season, Tuesday’s victory was an emphatic exclamation point on a terrific season thus far.
And despite the graduation numbers and the sporadic struggles on offense, the defending champions are one of the last four Class AA-A boys teams in the state still standing.
“When you lose Evan McCray, Ryan Shrewsbury, Coen Preston, Philip Englund and Dylan Pence on the side making recovery runs and come back and put this together? Yeah, I’m really proud of them,” Foster said.
“It’s awesome because at the beginning of the season, we were doubted,” Vanscoy added. “I think we’ve completely changed what people thought. We came out here and proved that we’re still here.”