By Jeremy Balan
International High School and Gateway High School, the top two seeds in the Bay Counties League Central playoffs, will meet in the league final Thursday, but the two teams had significantly different experiences in their respective semifinal wins against Waldorf and Bay on Tuesday at Crocker Amazon Playground.
Top-seeded International struggled with fourth-seeded Waldorf throughout, but a late goal from Clay Bloszies in the second half put the Jaguars on top for good, sealing the 2-1 victory.
International (16-1-2) broke a scoreless halftime tie with a goal from Laurent Hesnard in the 44th minute, but Waldorf (4-9-2) responded just 10 minutes later on a picture-perfect free-kick goal from senior captain Oscar Banilla from 25 yards out.
That set up Bloszies’ goal, but it came with a bit of luck.
Bloszies sent a high-arcing shot toward the net and Waldorf goalkeeper Dyami Bryant-Escobar tipped the ball up, but instead of going above the crossbar, the ball fell into the net.
“It was probably one of the better-played games we’ve had all year,” said Waldorf head coach Joel Snyder. “They got a lucky bounce, unfortunately. [Bryant-Escobar] is a 6-foot-4 guy who can tip it over the bar without a problem, but he just mishit it. Other than that, we’re in penalty kicks.”
The result was especially surprising, because International outscored Waldorf 16-0 in their two regular-season meetings, including an 11-0 rout on Oct. 19. Some of International’s difficulties may be attributed to the suspension of five players for undisclosed reasons, including four starters.
“We were lucky with our goals, but we’re happy to be in the final now,” said International head coach Carlos Bover. “Maybe we had other things on our mind and had trouble focusing. We need to have everybody. When we’re missing a part of the whole, we’re hurt.”
While International’s win was tightly contested from the start, Gateway didn’t take long to prove who was the superior team in its matchup.
The second-seeded Gators (14-4) scored four goals in the first 14 minutes of the game against Bay (6-7-1) and cruised to a 5-0 win.
“We wanted to make sure we put away the game quickly,” said Gateway head coach Joe Killmaier.
Two of the early goals came from standout junior forward/goalkeeper Fauris Franco who scored two goals in less than a minute of game time.
“He was on, and when he’s on, we do well,” Killmaier said. “He might be in goal [against International] on Thursday. We’re still not sure.”
International won both meetings with Gateway this season, 3-2 and 2-0, but almost comically, both coaches are playing the underdog card heading into the league championship game.
“They beat us twice, so they’re the better team obviously,” Killmaier said. “That’s to their advantage. It will be a good game, we just have to be ready.”
“They are definitely the favorites,” Bover said. “We’re going to try to match up with them, but it will be hard. You watched both games today. You tell me.”