With a heavy postseason presence of baseball and softball each year, the Unicoi County High School boys soccer team is looking to add another element this season.
The Blue Devils (7-5-1, 5-3) made the upcoming District 1-A/AA tournament interesting by knocking off Elizabethton 4-2 on Tuesday, April 26, at Citizens Bank Stadium in Carter County. With the victory, the Blue Devils avenged a 2-1 loss to the Cyclones earlier in the year and prevented the 2016 regular season conference champions from going a perfect 10-0 in league play.
“This is a big confidence booster for our guys,” UCHS head coach Justin Ciralsky said. “The last time we played them, it was a great game, we just made a few unfortunate mistakes. We always enjoy playing Elizabethton because they make us play well.”
A boost of confidence overflowed for the Blue Devils following the conclusion of the contest, when they learned that if they were to win their remaining games, they could have an opportunity to host a postseason game at Bryant Field in Erwin. University High scored a win over Sullivan South on Tuesday, setting the stage for the Blue Devils to potentially earn second place heading into tournaments.
“We found out today that we were able to find some goals,” Ciralsky said. “I told them that if we win out and everything pans out, we can have the first home game of our season.”
The Blue Devils would need to defeat Happy Valley and University High this week for an opportunity for a first round bye in the postseason and a home match.
Staying in contention didn’t come easy for the Blue Devils. Junior captain Sam Murillo, who recorded a hat trick against Elizabethton, gave UCHS an early 1-0 lead off a penalty kick at the 26:20 mark of the first half. The Cyclones (11-2, 9-1) responded quickly with Milligan College-signee Teve Mushayamunda taking one right down the middle to knot things up heading into halftime.
Elizabethton controlled the time of possession in the first half and Ciralsky said it was about going back to the basics in the second half.
“We changed some of the passing up top,” he added. “We just wanted to keep it simple and play some combinations. We had to win it in the midfield and our midfield and forwards stepped up and played great for us.”
The Blue Devil struck 12 seconds into the second period when Jose Ortiz scored from the corner. Murillo capped things off, scoring two more goals, one off an assist from Chris Andrade and a second penalty kick, to take the upset back home to the Valley Beautiful.
After suffering a 4-0 loss to Sullivan South on April 19 and learning there’s a chance for their first home game of the season, Murillo said the team needed the victory over Elizabethton.
“That’s a morale booster for sure,” Sam said after the postgame celebration. “Especially coming back from a South loss, it’s exciting. We’re all real excited about having a chance to host a game at our field. All the games we’ve played have been like, 45 minute drives, so it would be great to have all our family and friends from the county and school to watch us play and to feel that support like basketball, baseball, softball and the football teams feel.”
Elizabethton head coach Bill McClay said that his team will be ready for tournament play, but can’t take off any series against the level of talent they could see.
“You’re always going to have a player or two who aren’t going to have a good day,” McClay said, “but today it felt like we had a lot of guys not playing their best. You can’t do that. This wasn’t a day to be down, especially going against a team like Unicoi County.”
Mushayamunda scored Elizabethton’s other goal in the second half off a penalty kick.
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The Blue Devils returned to action on Tuesday, May 3, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline against Happy Valley.
The regular season comes to a close on Thursday, May 5, with UCHS taking a trip to Winged Deer Park to square off against University High. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m.