Though Clarke County senior Ryan Gaal said he considers himself an attacking midfielder, Gaal's goal total this season does not line up with such a description.
Gaal scored his first goal of the season Friday in Clarke County's 2-0 victory over James Monroe in the Virginia A semifinals at Radford University. The Eagles (14-2), last year's state runner-up, will play in Saturday's state final at 7 p.m. against the winner of the rain-delayed Radford-George Mason semifinal, which will resume Saturday morning.
Gaal believes he is "more of a behind the scenes type of player. . . . I think my teammates would get kind of angry at me for saying this, but I think we are more of a defensive type of team," Gaal said. "We like to think of our team as an attacking team, which is true to an extent, but I think we feed off the defense."
The Eagles got their first goal from junior midfielder Clay Ferrell in the 11th minute, and Gaal converted five minutes later. From that point, the Eagles relied on their midfield to control possession, while junior sweeper Danny Hardesty and stopper Tom Elliston repelled the Yellow Jackets (15-6).
Senior midfielder Taylor Neal had one of the Yellow Jackets' best scoring chances when he broke free of his defender with the ball and challenged Clarke County sophomore goalkeeper Peter Smetanick in the 72nd minute. Smetanick, however, sprung to his left to catch Neal's right-footed shot.
Clarke County lost one of its top scorers in sophomore forward Bobby Hobbs (12 goals), who broke his ankle in a collision during the 33rd minute. Hobbs was carried off the field and taken by ambulance to Carilion New River Valley Medical Center.
Handley Falls in Overtime
Jefferson Forest junior forward Steve Marut scored the game-winning goal in overtime to defeat Handley, 2-1, in the Virginia AA semifinals at Radford University.
In the 87th minute, Jefferson Forest senior midfielder Tyler Leveski tapped a 10-yard pass to Marut, who was almost unmarked near the Handley left post. Jefferson Forest (18-3-1) will play in the championship on Saturday against Charlottesville, which defeated Blacksburg, 2-0, in an earlier game. Blacksburg had appeared in six straight AA finals, winning four.
"I don't know what it was, but we couldn't get any fluidity to our game," Handley Coach Jim Carden said. "And of course that hurt us, because when you play a team like [Jefferson Forest] they are looking to get ahead with a quick goal."
The Judges (14-3) had given up a goal in the 18th minute off Leveski's 35-yard free kick that sailed into the back left corner of Handley's goal. Judges senior forward John Doran assisted senior midfielder John Gilkerson 11 minutes later to tie the game at 1.
Handley out-shot Jefferson 21-10. Doran came closest to scoring another Handley goal when his 20-yard shot hit the crossbar in the 63rd minute.
"I think we kind of played in a slump because we couldn't decide whether to play possession or take a more direct approach," Doran said. "Going into the second half we thought this was it; we got the [tying] goal and in the second half we were looking to bury them. . . . This was definitely a frustrating loss."