NEWBERRY — A lot was riding on Monday’s game when the sixth-ranked Bulldogs played host to the 10th-ranked Ninety Six team.
The Bulldogs needed the win to force a match against Saluda for the regional championship game. The Wildcats were playing to avenge an 8-2 loss to the ‘Dogs earlier in the season.
The Bulldogs wasted no time getting on the board as, barely one minute in, Logan Ransdell crossed from the right to Jose Lozano who struck hard. A Wildcat defender was there to block, but Erick Arroyo put the rebound in the net for a 1-0 Newberry lead.
One minute later, however, Ninety Six caught the ‘Dogs off guard and sent a 30-plus yard strike over the out-stretched hands of keeper Alberto Rodriguez to even the score at one apiece.
For the remainder of the half, Ninety Six was the aggressor, controlling mid-field and working the ball down field to create scoring opportunities. The Bulldog defense, with consistent play from Ernesto Bautista and Umberto Alvarez, was able to prevent most of the advances from becoming real threats. With 29:30 left in the half, the Wildcats crossed over from the left where a waiting player shot on the first bounce to give Ninety Six a 2-1 lead.
For most of the first half, Ninety Six was able to nullify the ‘Dogs slow-paced ball control offense by contesting every pass and forcing Newberry to rush many of their passes. Many of Newberry’s early scoring opportunities were ruled off-sides, which made the normally aggressive Bulldog front line more tentative than normal.
The first half ended with Ninety Six maintaining its 2-1 lead.
A renewed Bulldog team took the field in the second half, and this time it was Newberry who forced the game’s pace. In the first five minutes, the ‘Dogs had three good scoring opportunities thwarted by the Wildcat keeper. They kept the pressure up, however, and with 29:45 remaining, Rudolpho Sosa laid a corner kick nicely in the opposite side of the box where Bautista headed it to the goal to tie the score at two apiece.
The Bulldogs continued to control the action. With 24 minutes remaining, Sosa placed a throw-in near midfield to Arroyo who brought it down and struck from the top of the box. It took a diving save from the Wildcat keeper to keep the score tied.
With 13 minutes remaining, Arroyo was fouled outside the box. On the resulting free kick, a Wildcat defender stationed at the post was all that kept the ‘Dogs from taking the lead. The best opportunity for Ninety Six to score in the second half came on a free kick from 20 yards with four minutes remaining. The shot sailed high and the game went to overtime.
The first overtime period was evenly matched until, with 3:17 remaining, a Ninety Six goal kick went out of bounds deep in Bulldog territory. The ball was awarded to the Wildcats, who took advantage by making a throw-in to the box and kicking to the net for a 3-2 lead.
In the second five-minute OT period, the ‘Dogs forced the action but could not get shots to fall against the stingy Ninety Six defense. It looked as if the Wildcats would win in OT, but with less than 30 seconds remaining, the Bulldog persistence paid off.
The ‘Dogs were awarded a free kick when Ninety Six tripped an advancing Newberry player. Bautista placed the kick in the box where Arroyo was able to send a rebound shot into the net to force a shoot-out.
Newberry was unable to translate the OT momentum into a shoot-out victory. The Bulldogs could only capitalize on three of the five shots, while the Wildcats were successful on four strikes. Newberry scorers in the shoot-out were Arroyo, Alvarez, and Lozano.
The loss dropped the Bulldog record to 12-3, while Ninety Six improved to 12-6-1. The Newberry loss also meant the Saluda Tigers won the regular season title.