After a seasonlong search, Fallston's boys soccer team finally foundthe right midfield combination last weekend.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, they won't get a chance to use it again. The Cougars' season ended in a 2-1 shootout loss to Wilde Lake in the state Class 1A semifinals played in Hagerstown last Saturday night.
Despite the disappointment of losing such a close contest, the Cougars (12-2) found some consolation in the success they finally achieved with their unsung midfield.
"We got the midfield play we were looking for all year," Coach Len Petrey said. "All along we expected to be strong up front with Shane (Dougherty) and Tom (Gould) and we knew we were strong in the back with Chris (Eatough). But we made a lot of changes in the midfield looking for the right combination."
Against Wilde Lake, Petrey put two youngsters at outside halfback -- sophomore Ryan Sapp, who moved up from JV for the playoffs, and freshman Todd Paradise, who played with the varsity all year. Inside, he used veterans Chris Luber and Joe Poling. Fred Sheckells also did a solid job in midfield relief.
Paradise had the tough job of marking the Wildecats' set-up man, Matt Nesbitt, while stopper Shaun Lavin dogged high-scoring striker Hasimi Amani-Dove. The rest of the defense, Eatough, Dan Bowers and Rob D'Angelo, also played well.
The combination of strong midfield play and man-to-man coverage helped the Cougars shut down Wilde Lake in the first half.
"In the first game, wesat back and let them come to us," Poling said of the Cougars' 2-0 loss to Wilde Lake during the regular season. "This time, we were really aggressive to the ball and we worked the short passing game well. We knew if we used our outside halfbacks, we could score."
Petrey used Sapp and Paradise to put pressure from outside on the Wildecats'defense. That helped Fallston dominate early.
The Cougars took the lead in the first half when Luber started a scoring play from outside. He passed the ball to Gould, who fed Dougherty for a goal with one minute, 36 seconds left in the half.
The momentum turned to Wilde Lake (12-2-1) in the second half. On a restart, Nesbitt found Amani-Dove open on the post to tie the game with 22:12 left.
"That was one of those calls that could have gone either way," Lavin said. "Nobody was prepared. Nobody got back on defense. Nesbitt got the ball real quick, and Dove just tapped it and it went in."
After two scoreless 10-minute overtime periods, the teams advanced to the shootout. Wilde Lake outscored the Cougars, 7-5. Neither team had faced a shootout all year.
The Cougars pulled ahead after five shooters. But Wilde Lake goalie Todd Bradford make three diving saves to help the Wildecats to victory.
"A shootout isn't the way you want to win. Theyshould let you play until one team falls over and the other team scores," Poling said.
For Fallston, it was the second appearance in the state final four in two years. Last year's team reached the state title game in Class 2A.
This year, Petrey and his team were sure they had lost to the eventual state champion. The Wildecats were to play Clear Spring yesterday for the title.
"Everybody thought that game should have been the final game," Lavin said. "We played our bestgame all year. Considering we played against a front line with two of the top five players in the state, we did a really good job controlling them."