Wood boys edge Handley on Del Moral goal to earn region berth

WINCHESTER — The Millbrook boys’ soccer team might want to spend a few minutes on corner kick defense at Tuesday’s practice.

After scoring both of its goals on corner kicks in a Class 4 Northwestern District first round game against Sherando, third-seeded James Wood defeated No. 2 Handley 1-0 as a result of a Edgar Del Moral corner kick goal 12 minutes into Monday’s semifinal game at Handley’s James R. Wilkins Jr. Stadium.

The Colonels (11-5-2) earned their second straight Region 4C tournament berth with the victory and will play at No. 1 Millbrook (14-3) at 6 p.m. in Wednesday’s championship game. The Pioneers won both regular-season meetings.

The odds of James Wood doing that again weren’t highly promising in the middle of the season, but the Colonels are 5-0-1 since a 3-2 overtime loss to the Pioneers on April 21. The one draw during that time was against Handley (13-3-2), which went 1-0-1 against James Wood this season and beat the Colonels 2-0 at Handley on April 7.

James Wood senior center back Micah Frigaard noted the Colonels had targets on their backs as the defending district champs at the beginning of the season, but the team’s status definitely changed in the middle.

“It means the world [to get back to regionals],” said Frigaard, who also served as a center back on last year’s Class 4 state semifinalist team. “It’s nice to know we weren’t just a one-trick pony, a one-year team. It just feels really good and is like a weight off our shoulders.

“As the season started to play out, we’ve been the underdogs, and it’s really nice to beat and upset a team [to advance].”

In a physical game in which shots were few and far between — James Wood drew four yellow cards, committed 17 fouls and finished with a 7-5 shot edge — the Colonels got on the board early after being shut out in the first half against Sherando.

From the right side, Sam Frigaard skipped a ball into the middle of the penalty box. The ball was dummied through by a Colonels player and ricocheted to the senior midfielder Del Moral, who sent the ball in from just outside the middle of the goal box.

“Honestly, I didn’t even see [how the ball got to me],” Del Moral said. “It went to my thigh and then I put it in. I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time.”

The Colonels have a way of being in the right spots on set pieces. With so many young players in attacking positions in the run of play, they know they have to be aggressive and take advantage of their size and physicality when the ball is sent into the box on a restart.

“We know we’re not the best live play team just because of our new front line,” Micah Frigaard said. “But they’ve really stepped up to get us the corner kicks and set pieces that make us so dangerous.”

James Wood coach Brian Sullivan said the corner kick was a designed dummy play, and the Colonels put themselves in a great position to finish. Del Moral was one of a few Colonels who could have put the corner kick away.

There were still 68 minutes of soccer to be played after that, but the Colonels rarely gave up scoring opportunities.

In the first half, Handley had one corner kick header go wide, and James Wood players put themselves in position to block three shots in the box by Jonathan Romero.

In the second half, the Judges only had two good looks at the goal. A ball rolled out to Dash Fitzsimmons in the 72nd minute, but his bouncing shot was scooped up by Ben Tanger (two saves).

Three minutes later, a long cross-field pass was played to Jonathan Ramirez Arriola on the right side, but his shot from near the 18 sailed high.

Handley coach Cosmo Balio yelled, “It’s coming!” after that shot, but a Colonels defense that was aided by moving defensive midfielder Ryan King into a third center back spot for the last 10 minutes shut the door on the Judges the rest of the way.

Sullivan liked what he saw all game from the Colonels’ defense, which features center backs Micah Frigaard and Ethan Bowman and outside backs Joey Cannata and Hunter Barnhart. Sullivan said one of the goals was to limit the opportunities for Romero, Handley’s leading scorer, and also limit corner kicks and long throw-ins. The Judges had only one corner kick in the second half after they had three in the first.

“In the grand scheme, minus the last few minutes of the game, we took away a lot of their opportunities,” Sullivan said. “[Our defenders] have done a really good job of wanting to learn, and watch film, and try to get better, and see what the opponents are going to do, and try to take away their strengths.”

James Wood also wasn’t afraid to play physical. Four yellow cards was more than Sullivan wanted to see, but Sullivan said being physical was key on artificial turf, which the team isn’t used to.

“Sometimes you’ve got to muck the game up a little bit, make it a little bit sloppy, to keep our guys in it,” Sullivan said. “Fouls at midfield or in the offensive third are not the end of the world.”

Micah Frigaard said he’s been encouraging some of his teammates to play more physical.

“As long as they’re not dirty fouls, I love when the guys get physical and challenge for the ball,” Frigaard said.

Balio felt his team didn’t play the style of game that’s helped it to so much success this season. He felt the Judges got caught up responding to James Wood playing long balls by playing too many of their own.

“We were definitely a better team in the midfield that we can knock a ball around, but we got away from that,” Balio said.

Balio was proud of the effort Monday, and the entire season after last year’s winless 0-8-3 campaign. Handley’s seniors are Ramirez Arriola, midfielder Sam Cornette, forward Sergio Santos and defender Robert Avant.

“Hats off to the Sully and the [James Wood] group,” Balio said. “But this Handley group coming off a winless season, I told them I’m so proud of this group of seniors. They weren’t the stars of the team, but they were contributors who put their hat on and worked the whole time.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the entire team. I told them I could have sat in the stands and watched my two kids [on the Handley girls’ team] play soccer, but I chose to get back in it. They’ve made it worthwhile. I am so glad to be back, and hopefully, we can build on this.”

Owen Turnbull had two saves for Handley.

Sullivan is proud his team is back in the region tournament.

“We’ve been preaching all season we want to be at our best at this point and time,” Sullivan said. “We’re unbeaten in our last six and hitting our peak. We had some bumps in the road, but the whole purpose, was keep trusting the process, keep trusting our fitness, our mentality, and I think we did a good job doing that.”

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