Ryan Mendes scooped up the ball in the waning moments of the Virginia 6A state semifinal, holding on perhaps a few seconds longer than he should have before dishing it to a teammate.
South County Coach Dale Nalls shouted Mendes’s name for a substitution, letting him take in the victory with his teammates and ensuring that — after receiving two unsportsmanlike penalties earlier in the game — he would get to start in net one more time in Saturday’s state championship game. The senior goalie hesitated momentarily before jogging off the field and taking in the waning moments of Wednesday’s 12-8 victory over Oakton from the sideline.
As Mendes embraced his coaches and teammates, the semifinal finally felt secure. For the first time in school history, the Stallions (18-5) earned a spot in the state title game against W.T. Woodson.
Mendes anchored a dominant defensive effort, staving off Oakton’s high-powered offense from start to finish. His biggest saves, though, came in the final period. After Mendes spent the end of the third quarter on the sideline because of his two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, Nalls told him that “tonight’s the night. We got a chance to do something bigger than ourselves.”
Mendes returned with the score tied at 7 and stopped four shots in the fourth quarter. None was more important than the save that killed off an Oakton man advantage. After stopping the shot with his foot, Mendes sent a full-field pass to junior Dillon Spalding, who set up senior Hayes Taibl’s fourth goal to give the Stallions a 10-8 lead.
“The plan before was to launch it down the field, so we launch it down, and it’s a goal,” Mendes said.
Oakton (16-5) won its first region title since 2005 last week and beat South County, 13-11, on May 24 in the Virginia 6A North region semifinal. On Wednesday, the Cougars led 3-1 after the first quarter with junior Jake Cole and his brother, freshman Jared Cole, scoring all three goals.
The Stallions took a 5-4 lead heading into intermission, relying on a dominant faceoff performance from junior Kevin Jackson.
“Once we got rolling with it, they just couldn’t stop us on the faceoffs, and we got the possessions we needed,” Jackson said.
With the scored tied at 8 in the fourth quarter, Spalding set up the go-ahead goal by junior Jack Arsenault. Soon, Spalding found himself in the penalty box, but the Stallions survived Oakton’s man advantage on Mendes’s clutch save followed by the Taibl goal.
“This is a huge deal for me. And Ryan, too,” Taibl said. “Four years, watching our team fall short every year. I think there was a little fire in us coming into this season. I think that this season we were a little all over the place at first, but I think we came together and played more as a team this season than ever before, and I think it’s really paid off.”
Dominion’s bid for a second straight Virginia 4A state championship fell short in the semifinals with a 21-11 loss to E.C. Glass.