The Baldwin High School boys soccer team has put together an impressive run the past three seasons competing in Region 3-4A.
In that span the Braves have finished as region runners-up, earning them the right to host their opening round playoff games three years straight. For that streak to continue though, eighth-year head coach Brad Bell will either need multiple players step up to replace what was lost to graduation or change the team’s attacking philosophy. The Baldwin boys had both of last year’s leading scorers (tied at 16 goals apiece) graduate along with the team’s keeper and one of the top defenders.
“Those will be big holes to fill there,” Bell acknowledged. “We’re going to have to play hard to finish at least in that second spot again.”
Of course the team is aiming for a region championship, but in order to do that the Braves will have to dethrone perennial champ Richmond Academy who has really had Baldwin’s number. The Musketeers from Augusta took on their fair share of losses in the offseason too though, having graduated multiple players and welcomed a new coach to the program. If the rain ever stops canceling games, the Braves may see just how well they stack up Tuesday when Richmond Academy is scheduled to come to town.
As far as returners, Coach Bell does welcome back two key pieces from his team’s recent run of success. Junior Erick Machado, who was second on the team with eight goals a year ago, will partially handle the midfield duties. Despite being just a junior, Machado will be among the most experienced BHS players on the field this season as he’s seen significant time since his freshman year.
“Erick is probably our most rawly talented player,” said Bell. “He plays on a very high level club that plays all over the Southeastern region. We’ll be looking for him to carry us some.”
Shoring up the Baldwin backline is defender Jalen Evans, an All-Region Honorable Mention selection a year ago. Outside of those two, Bell believes speed will be a strength for 2020 Braves soccer.
Playing behind Evans and that backline in goal will be new keeper, freshman Issac Harris.
“He’s promising,” Bell said. “He’s a real athletic freshman and has some experience in goal.”
Harris isn’t the only first-year high schooler who will be expected to contribute immediately.
“I’m also hoping to get some production from some other promising freshmen,” the head coach pointed out. “Tyler Young and Landon White have looked very good in tryouts and preseason. They’re probably going to be on the field immediately after the losses we’ve taken on.”
But there’s always a tradeoff to playing young athletes right out the gate, and having watched the team practice Bell has seen an area it will have to improve upon if it wants its region standing to also improve.
“I think that will also present some problems with physicality. We’ve got to get these guys playing a little tougher. I hope the understanding will come along, but there are a lot of guys who are either new to the sport or haven’t played in a while. I hope we can develop that understanding and logic of the game a little bit.”
The only way the team is going to develop the understanding and see the level of physicality necessary to compete though is to actually get out onto the field for competition. Mother Nature has made that quite difficult with all the rain the state has seen recently. The Baldwin boys had yet to play a game entering Thursday thanks to one cancellation (non-weather) and two rainouts. Their next chance to play is Tuesday’s slated region opener against Richmond Academy, a game that could serve as a good barometer for the season. The girls teams are scheduled to kickoff at 5:30 p.m. with the boys set to follow at 7:30 p.m. on the Baldwin soccer field.