Mackey sends Gryphons ahead into third round
Thomas Jefferson soccer entered the second round of the state playoffs against a familiar foe, Lincoln Charter. The Gryphons beat the Eagles easily in the regular season on two different occasions, but on a brisk Satuirday night in Avondale, a singular second-half goal from Nathan Mackey was the difference in a 1-0 win for TJCA (17-1-1).
“They came in with a defensive game plan with just one guy up high,” TJCA head coach Brian Espinoza said of the Eagles’ defense. The Gryphons outscored the Eagles 10-1 in their previous two meetings. “It’s hard to get around a defense that has 10 guys packed in.”
The Gryphons controlled possession for the majority of the first half but only had a handful of scoring opportunities.
Stephen Snyder launched a looping shot from 35 yards out in the 15th minute that looked poised to sneak under the crossbar before Licoln Charter keeper, Isiah Smith, punched the ball over the goal.
The first half ended in a scoreless tie prompting the Gryphons to come out with a more aggressive approach in the second half.
TJCA’s Grant Hernandez and Joseph Pate each had open looks at the goal in the 43rd minute, but Hernandez’s was scooped up by Smith and Pates shot rolled wide of the goal. However, the tempo was set.
“We had to pick up the intensity,” Espinoza said. “We were moving the ball but we weren’t moving it fast enough. We wanted to move the ball a little faster and get it into the box.”
In the 61st minute, Mackey controlled the ball from just over midfield, weaved around a Lincoln Charter defender and unleashed a low liner from 30 yards out into the left side of the net for the 1-0 lead.
“When you’re the better team it shows and eventually one goes in,” Espinoza said.
From there the Gryphons continued to control possession until the Eagles were awarded a free kick 40 yards away from the Gryphons goal.
TJCA goalkeeper Stephen Maimone, who spent most of the second half watching his teammate on the far side of the field, didn’t have to make a play on the kick as it sailed well over the goal and out of bounds.
“Our goal is to control the ball for 65-75 percent of the game,” Espinoza said. “When we can do that we just wear teams down. It’s tough to chase the ball around the entire game.”
The action died down until the final minute when a Lincoln Charter player went down with an apparent leg injury. Play resumed on the field as the Eagle frantically tried to tie the game until an angry Lincoln Charter coach ran onto the field and kicked the ball out of bounds much to the confusion of everyone on the field and in the stands.
“No one really saw him on the ground except for myself and their coach,” Espinoza said. “We truly want to kick the ball out of bounds to show some sportsmanship but in the excitement of the game the kids didn’t even notice he was down … the excitement of the moment just got the better of everybody.”
The Eagles coach and a TJCA assistant exchanged word on the sideline before officers on the scene controlled the situation.
After several minutes on the turf, Mattie Groff, was loaded into an ambulance and the final 35 seconds ran off the clock.
The Gryphons advance to Community School of Davidson, another conference opponent they played twice in the regular season winning each time (2-1, 2-1), on Wednesday. Game time is tentatively set for 6 p.m.