The game plan looked steady.
Socastee and forward Zach Elsibai would do much of what they had all year, play the ball up to the talented scorer and let him do his thing. Stratford had a better plan.
The Braves fell 1-0 at home in the opening round of the Class 5A boys soccer playoffs after the Knights’ stingy defense won the vast majority of impactful 50-50 balls, controlled the pace of the game and got the one goal that sent them to the second round.
“They were strong in the air. They were very strong in the air. But we did put some pressure on them,” Socastee coach Memo Suarez said. “We had opportunities. We didn’t capitalize on those opportunities. I don’t regret it. It was a good game to watch. I think we could have won it.”
In the end, Josue Dasilva’s goal five minutes into the second half was the difference. The eventual game-winner came after a quick possession change, when Dasilva took advantage of a one-on-one opportunity with Braves goal Eric Bronovitskiy and put it underneath and into the back of the net.
That’s all it would take to advance to the second round, where the Knights will play the winner of the Lexington-Ashley Ridge winner.
Socastee simply could get Elsibai — who came into the game with a team-leading 23 goals — the right shot on goal. Much of that had to do with Stratford’s best trait in the game.
Time and again, Bronovistkiy would make a stop, then play the long ball onto the other side of the field. And time and again, the Knights’ defenders reversed it while making it look routine.
“We could sense it,” Stratford coach Jessie Stament said. “It kind of becomes obvious, at least from what I saw. [Bronovitskiy] was trying to hit it long, get it on one of the strikers, and then they’d try to flick it to the other one. For us, we’re used to playing that. Everyone’s going to get some through every now and again. But that kind of favors us, in a sense, because we’ve got big, physical guys in the back who can compete in the air.”
Socastee did manage 11 shots on goal (vs. 18 from Stratford), and Bronovitskiy’s 16 saves had Suarez feeling just fine going into the second half, when it was still 0-0.
“Our previous practices, they showed we were prepared for it,” Suarez said. “And then it’s just one of those flukes, a mistake we make on the back and it cost us the game.”
For the Braves, the season came to an end with a 9-5 overall record and the Region VI-5A crown.
But the already abbreviated state playoffs felt even shorter.