The Socastee boys soccer team entered the week with 146 goals on the year, a figure that was not only atop the state’s charts this season but fourth all-time in SCHSL history.
That mark did not change when it needed to most.
The Braves were shut out at home in a 2-0 loss to River Bluff on Tuesday in the Class AAAA Lower State finals. It snapped Socastee’s 18-game winning streak and ended another high-quality year on the pitch.
“It’s been a spectacular season,” first-year coach Byron Owen said. “In the beginning, it was a little rough for us. But we got a lot of things straightened out as a team and we rolled for a long time. We made a good run.”
It stopped short of the ultimate goal because Socastee was shut out for the first time all season, but also thanks to Gators senior Sean O’Hara’s goal a little more than a minute into the second half and then when another by Connor Deany with three minutes left iced it.
Those were the finishes that Socastee simply couldn’t find throughout the match, although the opportunities were there.
The Braves had two point-blank shots sail above the goal inside the first eight minutes. Neither found the back of the net, but they did prove the Braves were going to be aggressive.
Much of that same pace continued throughout the scoreless first half, one that ended that way only after a pair of Cole Renfrow saves in the final 90 seconds or so kept River Bluff off the board. Owen said it could have been realistically been a four-goal differential against the Gators had it not been for a number of impressive Renfrow stops, especially given the abnormal lack of offense.
“All year we’ve done that and finished,” Owen said. “Tonight, we just had to many shots going over the cross bar, up and too high. Generally, that’s a reaction to nerves, being unsettled, not seeing in slow motion at the time and rushing and jerking. We had some big odds up against us, and I’m not just talking about [River Bluff]. We lost some key players, and everyone was trying so hard to step up and compensate for that.”
Most notably, the Braves were without senior midfielder Jake Perito, arguably the team’s best defensive player, who was injured in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Bluffton.
Owen adjusted his formation some to keep more help back, but it also likely played a role in some of those shots near the Gators’ net being rushed.
River Bluff, meanwhile, made its chances against the Braves count again. Phil Savitz’s team eliminated the Braves from the Lower State tournament for the second year in a row, and this time around it sends the Gators to the title game for the first time in the school’s brief history. River Bluff lost to Wando in the Class AAAA Lower State finals in 2015 and Eastside in the AAA Upper State finals in 2014. For coach Phil Savitz, who won 14 championships at Irmo, the Gators will be playing on the final day of the season.
“You start a brand new program and you go to the Upper State championship the first year and you lose a heartbreaker,” Savitz said. “The second year we’re playing Wando in the Lower State championship. Two years in a row you’re undefeated region champs and you just can’t quite get there. It means so much to me and the players that are here, not only to the team, but to the alumni and the fan base, to be in a team state championship. After two years of being so close, it means everything to me.”
What it also means is that Socastee did not qualify for the title game. The Braves previously made it to the Class AAAA championship in 1983 under Buddy Rogers and the Class AAA title game in 2007 under current assistant Memo Suarez.
Owen said his team has nothing to be “ashamed about” after the loss. It wasn’t going to negate the scoring mark, the Region VI-AAAA regular season title or the long winning streak – which included three playoff wins.
“We’re proud of how far we’ve come,” Renfrow said. “We just wish we could have gone farther.”
Goals: River Bluff Sean O’Hara, Connor Deany.
Goalies: River Bluff Evan Dowdy (3); Socastee Cole Renfrow (12)
Records: River Bluff 23-1; Socastee 22-4