Winfield vs Fairmont

Winfield’s Jackson Zullauf (15) moves the ball against Fairmont Senior.

BECKLEY — One was bombarded early and the other clipped late, but for Winfield and Charleston Catholic — the Kanawha Valley’s Class AA-A boys contingent — dreams of a state soccer championship ended a day early on Friday night at a frigid Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex.

The Irish were down 2-0 in the first 11 minutes and it never got better as Robert C. Byrd rolled to a 4-1 win. Winfield was much more competitive, but a goal from Fairmont Senior’s Bubby Towns with 10:16 remaining gave the Polar Bears a slim 2-1 win.

Byrd and Senior will square off for the Class AA-A championship following the girls game on Saturday morning. That game is set for a 9:30 a.m. kickoff.

The Eagles’ Khori Miles entered Friday with 51 goals and a reputation for being among the state’s most dangerous forwards. He certainly lived up to that, finding the back of the net with 29:05 left and with 9:15 left in the first half. An early tally from Logan Parsons gave Byrd a commanding 3-0 lead at the break. Miles added a third goal within the first three minutes of the second half to put Byrd up 4-0.

The Eagles (18-2-1) fell in a 2-1 game at Catholic in the regular season and players and coaches admitted that result added some fuel to the fire heading into Friday’s matchup.

“I thought we should’ve beat them 4-1 or 5-1 the first time, but things just didn’t happen,” RCB coach Ron Williams said. “But that’s what made them so hungry for this.”

Catholic coach Niall Paul also knew that Byrd would be tougher to defeat a second time. The early goal certainly hurt and from there it became a snowball rolling downhill.

“We picked the worst night to have our worst game,” Paul said. “A couple of fluke plays. On the first one, two RCB boys ran into each other and our guys fell off our marks. It was not how we thought it would go but they were obviously very prepared and took advantage of our early mistakes.”

An up-tempo offensive approach worked throughout most of the season for the Irish, but on Friday the inexperience on the defensive side seemed to finally take its toll as Miles and company found holes to push through.

“This is the closest I’ve been with any team in the past four years,” Catholic senior David Kershner said. “It was a good run, it was fun.”

Fairmont Senior 2, Winfield 1: Winfield’s quest for a championship came to an end on the same frozen field turf in which it came to fruition on a year ago.

Winfield had plenty of opportunities, especially in the first 20 minutes of the second half, and finished with a 9-5 advantage in shots on frame.

But Polar Bear goalkeeper Angelo Sabatino made eight big saves and Senior’s defense down the stretch held off a frantic flurry from Winfield (19-2-4).

“Double-A down here is wide open,” Fairmont coach Darrin Paul said. “We had opportunities and capitalized on two great ones, they had a couple opportunities and didn’t capitalize on a couple that maybe their coaching staff felt they should have.”

The teams played to a 0-0 tie in the regular season but each team found a score in the first half Friday. Senior’s Billy Tobin scored with 26:03 remaining in the first half and that 1-0 lead stuck for about 20 minutes.

Winfield tied it up with 6:16 left as Tarek Jarrouj found the foot of Braxton Vanscoy, who scored his 40th and, as it turned out, final goal of the season.

Winfield will say goodbye to eight seniors who guided the team back to the state tournament despite losing five key senior starters from a state-championship squad a year ago. Along the way, the Generals lost just two games in two years, and Friday’s defeat to Fairmont Senior was the program’s first loss to Class AA-A competition since a 2017 regional final loss to eventual champion Nitro.

“I think as a team these past few years, we’ve played really well together and clicked well,” Generals senior goalie Nathan Lanham said. “It shows how bad we wanted this state championship, but sometimes the other team is better.”

Contact Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948 or ryan.pritt@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RPritt.