GREENSBORO — The Midwest team in the high school men’s soccer tournament of the Powerade State Games of North Carolina already knows it will play for a medal tomorrow. One more win this morning, and they’ll be playing for the gold.
Mount Airy High School head soccer coach Will Hurley’s team claimed victories in its first two matches of pool play on Saturday, beating the West team 1-0 in the UNC-Greensboro Soccer Stadium in the morning’s first match, then defeated the Southeast 2-1 with a dramatic goal just 15 seconds after the Southeast had tied them late in the game.
With a 2-0 record in pool play, the Midwest is tied with the Central team for first place in the tournament at 2-0. Central has a higher goal differential and will probably finish first overall in pool play if both teams finish undefeated, but Hurley said that both teams will advance to the gold medal game if they win or draw their third and final pool matches on Sunday morning. Both Midwest and Central (Raleigh/Durham area) are in Pool A, along with the South. Each team plays a round-robin with the teams in Pool B. The two teams with the best records in pool play will play for the gold and the next two highest finishers will play for the bronze this afternoon.
The Midwest plays the Northeast (0-2) today at 10:45 in the stadium to finish pool play. The Northeast has already lost decisively to both Central (9-2) and South (6-1).
“Hopefully, the kids will come out like they did today and be ready to play,” said Hurley, whose son Holden is one of the assistant coaches. “All we need to do is win the game and we’re playing for the gold.”
Hurley is in his sixth season as a men’s coach in the State Games tournament. In 2012, he coached a girls’ team in the event. Two of his players, brothers Austin and Jackson Tumbarello, are part of the Midwest team, along with Nolan McMillen of Surry Central.
The past two seasons, the Midwest lost its first match of pool play and had to rally to secure a bronze medal. This year’s team wanted a shot at the gold and knew it couldn’t afford to start out 0-1.
“We came out in the first game and played about the best of any of the teams I’ve ever brought here,” said Hurley. “We hit just about everything around the net in the first 10 minutes, but couldn’t get anything to go in. We dominated time of possession.”
The difference-maker, and the star of the day on offense for the Midwest, turned out to be Jorge Alfaro of Walter Williams High School in Burlington. Alfaro scored 32 goals as a sophomore last fall for the Bulldogs, who reached the third round of the 3A state playoffs. On Saturday, he scored the goal that finally game the Midwest a 1-0 lead over the West.
“We had just subbed some fresh legs into the game, and he was in the right place at the right time,” Hurley said.
For the rest of the match, the team had an edge in time of possession, but it came down to a defensive struggle. Hurley said the West did get a few shots on goal late, but Alfaro’s goal stood up for a 1-0 victory.
“The West played really hard,” Hurley said. They were a good team, and we knew winning that game would be tough. But we also knew we had to have a win in the first game this year.”
They had about a 3 1/2 hour break before moving over to the practice field next door for their second match, against the Southeast team, which has players representing cities such as Wilmington, Clinton, Jacksonville and 1A powerhouse Swansboro. The Southeast was the only team in Pool B to win a game on Saturday. Both teams had played hard-fought openers and won, and the winner knew it would begin Sunday in the drivers’ seat for a chance at gold.
“I was a little worried about the second game, because it got really hot,” said Hurley. “But we came out on fire, passing the ball well, and before long, Jorge scored again.”
The Midwest went to the break clinging to a 1-0 lead, and continued to display tough defense. However, they finally blinked with about 10 minutes to play.
“We finally collapsed on defense and they scored a goal to tie it,” Hurley said. “I was kind of worried that we were wearing down in the heat and they were going to end up beating us.”
Enter Alfaro again.
“We got the ball back, and he scored 15 seconds after they got their goal. We held on the rest of the way and won,” he said. “You could tell that our kids did not want to lose that game.”
With a goal differential of plus-2, the Midwest is in second place behind Central, which is 2-0 and plus-9 in differential after beating the Northeast 9-2 and the South 3-1. However, Central has to play Southeast, the best Pool B team, this morning.
Regardless of the outcome of the morning matches, the Midwest knows it will be playing for a medal this afternoon. If it’s the gold, they’ll play in the stadium at 2:30. The bronze medal game begins at 2:15 on the practice field.