Heartbreaker: Late Cave Spring goal ends Western boys soccer’s state run

Photo by Bart Isley

Cave Spring’s Marc Sharrer has come up with a lot of big goals for the Knights.


“He’s our district co-player of the year and our first team All-Region player, he’s great for us, he’s had some big goals for us,” said Cave Spring coach Brad Collins.


But perhaps none as big as the chip shot in the final two minutes of the Class 3 state state semifinals that lifted the Knights past Western Albemarle 1-0.


“I thought it was going to overtime, they’ve been to a lot of overtime games, we have to,” Collins said. “I just thought it was headed that way, we both had our chances. You go 78 minutes and you don’t expect it to come in the last two.”


It took an almost perfect goal for Cave Spring to beat Western, who’d struggled most of the game to create chances but had played brilliantly defensively before surrendering Sharrer’s strike in the closing minutes.


“If you give up that many opportunities, eventually one of them is going to dribble into the goal,” said Western coach Milo Oakland. “They deserved to win the game, we got outplayed. It was a lack of connectivity, our team is so reliant on being connected and the runs just weren’t quite forming.”


Western appeared to have the exact connectivity that Oakland was referencing in the early going when a rapid fire exchange of short quick passes downfield by a triangle of Warriors led to a Gabe Nafzinger chance that pushed wide left. But beyond that early piece of brilliance that came up empty, Western fell victim to a compact Cave Spring defense that didn’t allow many shots on goal.


Western’s last best chance came essentially with 22:30 to play when a Joey Paulson strike ricocheted off the post, but slowly Cave Spring started creating more chances. Western keeper Jack Frey had to make a brilliant stop on a breakaway to keep the game scoreless with 11:20 left.


The defense was up to the task most of the game, holding up in part by drawing an offsides call twice in the first half including one with 2:30 left that took a Cave Spring goal off the board. Just a minute before that, Jed Strickland had to make a brilliant slide tackle on another breakaway by the Knights near the top of the box.


Sharrer’s goal ended an incredible run by the Warriors in the second half of the 2018 season that came as a group of seniors who until this season had been content to play a role for Western grew into leaders. Led by All-Region 3C first teamers Strickland, Wilson Brown and Johnny Riordan as well as Luke Magargee and Alex Moreno, the Western seniors took charge of the squad midway through the year and changed the course of the season.


“It definitely took awhile, we had an amazing season but we came out kind of slow against CHS and Albemarle but we started putting it together at the end of the year, beat CHS and the had this amazing run,” Riordan said.


Western struggled against top district foes in the first round of Jefferson District play, including a particularly disappointing effort against Charlottesville that left them searching for answers. It was then that those older players seemed to find what Western had to have in that moment.


“This is the most fun I’ve had as a coach,” said an uncharacteristically emotional Oakland as he talked about the senior class. “The role they stepped into this year, they didn’t seem enthusiastic or willing to accept it at the beginning of the season but somewhere in the middle of the season, they just decided to take charge. I don’t take credit for the progress, I give it to those five who started holding players accountable in constructive and positive ways. I really hope they learn how to translate that leadership into college and beyond because it was really impressive..”


That leadership pushed Western to its potential and, eventually, a Region 3C championship, but it couldn’t get them past the Knights.


“It has been amazing these last four years, soccer has been everything,” Riordan said. “It has been so fun and I’ve made so many friends, it has really been what has been my experience at Western Albemarle as a whole.”