Hylton senior defender Alex Murray wore the bruise on his cheekbone with pride after the Bulldogs' 2-0 victory over Kempsville in tonight's Virginia AAA state semifinal game at Old Dominion University. Murray said he expected to discover more bruises Saturday morning but that they would all be worth it after he and fellow defenders Chris Boots, Justin Chezem and Nate Pearson helped goalkeeper Kevin Larrabee earn his 15th shutout of the season.
"I think the worst [bruise] was when I landed on a guy's knee on their bench when I was pushed out of bounds," Murray said. "I think our defense is more solid than it was last year. We've had to step up our play because we haven't scored as many goals as we did last year."
Hylton (21-1-1), the state champion, was the first team this season to shut out the Chiefs, who averaged more than 3.5 goals a game in their first 21 contests. Kempsville (19-2-1) was ranked fourth in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, which ranked Hylton 12th in its most recent poll.
"This was a semifinal, so these were not the two best teams here," Hylton Coach Ken Krieger said. "Tomorrow we will play the other best team here."
That team will be Oakton, which beat Midlothian, 2-1, in overtime in the second semifinal. Oakton is the only team to beat Hylton this season.
For perhaps the first time this season, Hylton entered today's game as an underdog against Kempsville, a four-time state champion that defeated Hylton in the 1997 state semifinals.
"I think that made us more mentally focused," Larrabee said. "Sometimes when we come in thinking we are going to kill a team, we tend to take things for granted. This time, we knew Kempsville was a good team."
Senior forwards Jonathan Hooker and Luis Portillo each had second-half goals for the Bulldogs.
Senior midfielder Keith Williams set up the first goal in the 44th minute with a long throw-in from the left sideline that Hooker redirected with his head past Kempsville junior goalkeeper Sean Wheaton.
Hooker had a second goal disallowed in the 71st minute because of an offsides call, but he set up Portillo's clincher less than three minutes later. Junior midfielder Barry Suber forced a turnover near midfield, sending the ball to Hooker down a wide-open right wing. Hooker dribbled to the end line and dropped the ball back to Portillo for a simple six-yard finish.
For the last seven minutes, Hylton withstood the Chiefs' furious attempt to draw even. Kempsville took four shots in that time and ended up outshooting Hylton, 11-9, in the game. Larrabee charged out of his penalty area to clear an errant back pass by junior David Stokes in the 74th minute and smothered a 12-yard shot by sophomore Chris Moxley in the 77th minute.
"It wasn't just the four defenders today," Krieger said. "The best defense is keeping ball possession as much as possible and recovering quickly when you lose it. We began defending at the forwards and regained possession as far upfield as possible."
Tonight's game was played on a field larger than those at most high schools, and Krieger substituted frequently in the midfield to keep the players fresh.
"They are solid through and through," Kempsville Coach Kevin Denson said. "They can change the players on the field without changing their style of play."
Murray's most important play of the game came in the 63rd minute with Hylton leading, 1-0. Kempsville senior Chris Burgess's cross caromed directly to junior Benn Swann, who had time to wind up for a 14-yard shot. Murray slid in front of Swann and deflected the ball wide of the net.
"Alex saves us on that one," Boots said. "He has really stepped up as this season has gone on. We knew if our defense kept playing the way it has this season, we would be in good shape. Everyone played great. I love playing for this team."
Hylton (21-1-1))022Kempsville (19-2-1)000
GOALS -- Hooker 44th, Portillo 73rd.
ASSISTS -- Williams, Hooker, Suber.
SHOTS -- K 11, H 9.
SAVES -- H Larrabee 5; K Wheaton 4.
CAPTION: Adam Sawyer, left, battles for ball with Barry Suber of No. 1 Hylton, which became first team this season to shut out Kempsville.