Call Covenant boys soccer’s performance Monday in the VISAA D2 state quarterfinals what you want. Rusty. Out of Sync. Not their cleanest outing.
It’s probably easier to just call it a win though.
“We didn’t play our best but getting to the next round is what matters at the end of the day and that last minute goal was insane,” said Covenant senior Alex Wilcox.
On a well-placed cross by sophomore defender Giulio Degirogis off the head of Fernando Martinez with under two minutes to play, the Eagles beat Steward 2-1 to advance to the state final four, earning a rematch with regular season foe North Cross Thursday in Richmond in the state semifinals.
Late in the match with the score tied at 1-1, Martinez pushed the ball back out to reverse field and try and open something up. It turned out he was setting himself up for a wild game-winner.
“I saw that we couldn’t go that way (down the left) so I turned around and hit it back to Giulio who was wide open and he just saw me,” Martinez said. “First one I’ve had like that.”
Degirogis knew exactly where he wanted to place the cross, sending it arcing in right to Martinez.
“He always comes up big and I tried to thread it into him and it worked out perfectly,” Degirogis said.
It was a wild finish to a match that got off to a frustrating start for the Eagles as Steward got a quick goal in the opening minutes on a defensive breakdown that left Covenant playing from behind until Wilcox equalized on a penalty kick with 23 minutes to play.
The defensive tightened after the early goal, with Mark Brumbaugh and Degirogis clamping down and goalie Jacob Murrie shutting out Steward after the early lapse.
“The defense did a lot better after the first 30 seconds of the game, they really helped us,” Wilcox said. “(Murrie) has a short memory which is a good thing for a goalie. When we need them, they tighten up.”
That helped set the stage for the comeback. Eighth grader Josh Inouye drew the foul that led to Wilcox’s penalty kick and it came on the tail end of Covenant really taking the attack to Steward and forcing some physical, aggressive play by the Steward defense to try to protect the 1-0 lead. Inouye, Wilcox and Soren Scott in particular kept that relentless offensive attack up even as Steward continued to clog the middle and try and beat Covenant on counters. Scott won several critical balls to keep it in the Covenant zone and drew at least one foul with an aggressive, well-timed advance near the top of the box.
Still, finding the go-ahead goal proved difficult. Head coach Bryan Verbrugge noticed that the game started to shift in the closing minutes though and re-inserted Martinez into the mix just a couple of minutes before the goal.
“Fernando’s strength is combination play and smart movement in the attacking third,” Verbrugge said. “When the game moved towards that, I took him off the bench and put him in there, hoping he could find something.”
The move worked perfectly when Martinez headed in the game winner.
The Eagles (14-5-2) now face North Cross, who beat them 4-0 two weeks ago at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at SportsBacker Stadium in the state final four at 5:30 p.m.