After 80 minutes against the No. 1 team in Class A, Atlanta International School, Brookstone boys soccer coach Billy Byrd couldn’t help but repeat one phrase.
“They were good, weren’t they?” he said, shaking his head. “Man, they were good. They were just really, really good.”
His Cougars had just lost 4-2 in the state semifinals, eliminating them two wins shy of their ultimate goal. AIS advanced to the state championship, where it will face Paideia for the third time this season. The two teams split their regular season series 1-1.
And while going in, he said he really felt his guys could pull the upset, he wasn’t disappointed with the effort. Instead, Brookstone just lost to a team that was, well, really good.
The Cougars came up empty on a couple of early opportunities and allowed AIS to earn first advantage. In the ninth minute of the contest, the Eagles’ Bosho Sale controlled the ball down the pitch, drawing a defender to the left side. He fed Nick Rath, who was waiting right of the goal a few yards out. Rath kicked past the keeper for the early 1-0 lead.
“They controlled the ball so well,” he said. “They caught us early playing the 4-3-3, using three forwards up top. (Sale) is just an incredible ball-handler. He laid a ball across to the other side, and they were able to get the early advantage.
“It was beautiful stuff.”
Less than two minutes later, Rath scored again to give AIS a 2-0 lead. Ten minutes later, it was 3-0.
It was the kind of start the Cougars hoped to avoid, stating on Monday that they wanted to come out the aggressors in the game. And while they scored a goal going into the half to cut the lead to 3-1, the hole was simply to big to climb out of.
Stephen Poydasheff and Martin Ramos each scored a goal for the Cougars, the former coming in the waning moments of the first half and the latter the waning moments of the second.
Jimmy East assisted Poydasheff on a corner kick, which Poydasheff headed into the net. Ramos’ came on a free kick. They were the final goals of their high school careers. Ramos will play college ball at the University of South Carolina.
But Byrd emphasized what his team had been able to accomplish this season.
“At our core, we had some talented and experienced soccer players,” he said. “And we took some smart guys and turned them into a soccer team.”
Poydasheff, for example, didn’t play soccer before coming to Brookstone. Byrd said he worked every day after practice, practicing shooting.
The result was a successful career and a goal in the state semifinals.
“Today, they were calling his number,” Byrd said of AIS. “They were saying to mark him. That’s what we’re doing here. We’re growing and we’re having fun.”
And they’re doing it with a group Byrd said he wouldn’t trade for anybody. One senior, co-captain Miller Page, showed his sportsmanship at one moment in the game, working out a cramp in an opponent’s leg on the Cougars side of the field.
“I’d back guys like that in whatever they do in life,” Byrd said. “Miller Page could run for Congress, and I’d go vote for him.”
AIS will play its state championship at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Emory.
Tuesday at Brookstone
Goals—Atlanta International, Nick Rath 2, Sterling Vaughn, Jai Gore; Brookstone, Stephen Poydasheff, Martin Ramos. Assists—Brookstone, Jimmy East. Keepers—Brookstone, Ben Holts 12 saves. Records—Atlanta International, 17-2-1; Brookstone, 13-3-2. Next—Atlanta International, Sat. vs. Paideia at Emory in state championship; Brookstone, season over.