Thursday brought two local high school boys soccer teams onto the field together as Baldwin High School (4-8) hosted John Milledge Academy (4-5).
As often is the case in soccer, the team that capitalized on more opportunities was the one to come out on top. The Braves enjoyed a 3-1 Senior Night victory over the Trojans, giving BHS wins in their last two tries against JMA.
“Hats off to them,” BHS head coach Brad Bell said of the Trojans. “They had an athletic team that was really fast, which put a lot of pressure on our back line. We really had a lot of trouble with the through-ball all night long, but our guys managed to handle it pretty well.”
The two teams traded chances early Thursday with neither cashing in before the scoring got started in a very unconventional way. About midway through the opening half, Baldwin’s Landon White had the ball on John Milledge’s end and sent a cross into the box from right to left. A Trojan header attempt to clear the send-in instead wound up squarely in the JMA net. That rare sight on the soccer field, referred to as an own goal, gave the Braves a 1-0 advantage to play with. It would disappear only five minutes later when Baldwin’s own inability to clear the ball gave JMA junior Tommy Collier a great look at the frame. He sent his shot home to knot things up at 1-1 at the 15:50 mark.
The Trojans, by far, had the more organized attack in the first half while the Braves struggled to piece anything together. Halftime is for making adjustments, and that’s what Coach Bell did with his team during the 10-minute break.
“We started kind of slow,” Bell said. “I felt like we could have done better connecting on passes, but we discussed some things at halftime and changed our formation to something the guys are a little more comfortable with.”
The change was apparent quickly as BHS opportunities went from almost nonexistent to a flurry. Baldwin senior Erick Machado’s left foot sent a rocket that met the crossbar at the 33:30 mark, and he was close again following a corner kick only three minutes later. Despite playing well below 100% with multiple injuries, he’s the type of player that makes opponents hold their breath whenever he has the ball.
“He definitely makes them a little more dangerous and explosive when he’s on the field,” JMA head coach Cody Mahler said.
After a couple more missed JMA opportunities, Machado broke the tie with 15:30 left in the game. A few touches around the top of the box gave the senior the look he was trying for, and he sent a screamer past the Trojan keeper to put his team up 2-1.
The Braves got a little insurance with only three minutes to go. BHS senior Parker Budrys sent a perfect pass through the John Milledge defense to junior teammate William Ubah who was presented with a one-on-one with the goalie. Ubah went low to tack on the game’s final goal.
The early own goal and missed offensive chances wound up haunting the visiting Trojans in the crosstown matchup.
“Overall, I felt like we played well,” said Mahler. “We found feet and possessed the ball. Other than the first and third goal, the defense played well. At the end of the day, it came down to we didn’t finish on the opportunities that were given to us.”
John Milledge will be back on the pitch Monday to host Bulloch Academy. Baldwin, meanwhile, has a home game Tuesday against Region 4-4A opponent Spalding before traveling to Rutland Thursday. The Braves are working on clinching a playoff spot, and can do so with a win in one of those games next week.