Rockets top Oxford, advance to second round
by Joe Medley
OXFORD — There are breakthrough playoff berths, and there are breakthrough playoff victories.

Oxford’s and Gardendale’s boys soccer teams came into their first-round playoff match Saturday with the former. Gardendale left with the latter.

Grant Yeager recorded a hat trick, helping Gardendale beat Oxford 4-2 on Lamar Field. Gardendale (11-1) advanced to a second-round match at Hewitt-Trussville. Oxford finished 13-5-2.

It was Oxford’s first playoff appearance in boys soccer since 2000. Gardendale was making its second playoff appearance and first since 2005.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association sanctioned its first state champions in soccer in 1991.

The difference in how the two teams handled their breakthrough playoff berths showed.

“We just came out flat,” Oxford coach Dwight McDonald said. “It took us to the end of the first half to actually get into the game and get some momentum going our way.

“It was our first time in this situation, and some of the guys were nervous. I think we were prepared, but it was nervousness and lack of communication early.”

Gardendale built a 3-0 lead, with two goals coming in the game’s first six minutes.

“We came out there very aggressive and caught them on their heels, a little bit,” Gardendale coach John McIntosh said. “It was just coming out aggressive and being ready to play.”

Oxford did make a match of it. Senior Gustavo Rios scored to make it 3-1 with 40 seconds left in the first half, and senior Filiberto Ruedas netted one to make it 3-2 with 26 minutes to play.

“We felt like then were controlling the ball, that we were getting the ball and playing really well, passing really well,” senior midfielder Matthew Lin said. “But, it just takes one lapse of defensive concentration.”

Yeager added his third goal with 10 minutes to play. Sam Peacock scored Gardendale’s other goal.

Oxford will lose six seniors, but the Yellow Jackets’ playoff berth gives the program something to build upon.

“Over the years, we’ve improved because our players have been playing club, which is, like, another season,” Lin said. “I think this did a lot for giving us recognition that our soccer team isn’t bad.

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.
© 2013