Hagans goals, Byrd shutout pace Burg


WEST PORTSMOUTH — A smothering Wheelersburg defense shut out Valley 3-0 on Wednesday at Portsmouth West High School — to advance to the Division III boys soccer Southeast District championship match.

Pirates senior Max Hagans scored two goals in the first half to lead the Pirates (17-1-1) in the win.

Hagans, the Pirates’ all-time leading goal scorer, now has 130 career goals.

Wheelersburg goalkeeper Breyden Byrd pitched a shutout, and had nine saves on the night.

“I think our defense played really well tonight,” Byrd said. “We controlled the ball well. The first half was a little slow, but we picked it up toward the end and overall played a good game.”

Hagans put the No. 1 seed Pirates on the board with 18:59 to go in the first half — when he dribbled the ball down the middle from an assist by Nick Sylvia and booted it in.

He followed that goal with a header in front of the goal off a Sylvia assist — with 17:31 remaining in the half.

“I saw Nick (Sylvia) carrying the ball to the corner and I trust him to beat any guy one-on-one,” Hagans said. “I trust him in any matchup, so I knew I had to be in my spot. I saw the ball floating across, and I knew I had to leave it all out there. I laid it out there and we got the win.”

Wheelersburg made the score 3-0 with 1:40 left in the half — when junior Ethan Hochstetler scored off Sylvia’s third assist.

For the sophomore standout Sylvia, his hat trick of assists in the semifinal match gave him 27 for this season —and 41 for his career.

The Pirates won the match without key player and all-star midfielder Connor Estep, who went down with a torn ACL playing football.

“We played 14 games at full strength,” Wheelersburg head coach Jon Estep said. “Connor was a big part of what we do. We are adjusting and learning to play without him. We are learning as we go. Our guys are just trying to get comfortable, and we are not as high-powered as we were with him on the field.”

The Pirates did have a few days to prepare for the next round, and Estep is confident his team can answer the call.

“Right now, a win is a win whether it’s by a score of 1-0, 3-0, or 10-0,” he said. “We’ll take any win right now when you get into tournaments.”

Ninth-seed Valley (6-10-2) fired 15 shots and booted nine shots on goal, but Byrd was there to stop all of them.

“This game speaks volumes about the young men and women on our team. Early in the year, we took our lumps and they could have easily mailed it in and considered this season a wash. But they didn’t. They decided to show up day in and day out and get better. They never quit. Perfect example, we go down 3-0 in the first half, they come out fighting and ready to work in the second half. Our guys played their butts off for 80 minutes and left with nothing left in the tank,” said Valley coach Jacob Perry. “Proud of our team’s effort and reserve not just tonight, but this season as a whole.

“Our guys figured out how to play out there tonight,” Estep added. “The beauty of it is we have a lot of talented players who have a tremendous heart to win. Our middle with Max (Hagans) and Nick (Sylvia) who understand this game and are as good as anybody leads the other players. They get motivated by good leaders, and we have that.”

The Pirates play in the Division III district championship match on Saturday —at 3:30 p.m. at Jackson’s Alumni Stadium against fourth-seeded South Point.

The Pointers prevailed 1-0 over fifth-seeded North Adams in Wednesday night’s district semifinal match at Zane Trace.

Wheelersburg will be playing for its 11th all-time district championship —and fourth in a row.

Before the COVID-impacted season of 2020, in which Wheelersburg won its only regional championship in program history, the Pirates’ previous district titles came in 1988, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2010 and 2013.

* * *

Valley 0 0 —0

Wheelersburg 3 0 —3

W — Max Hagans (Nick Sylvia assist) 18:59, 1st (1-0 W)

W — Max Hagans (Nick Sylvia assist) 17:21, 1st (2-0 W)

W — Ethan Hochstetler (Nick Sylvia assist) 1:40, 1st (3-0 W)

SHOTS — Valley 15, Wheelersburg 16

SHOTS ON GOAL — Valley 9, Wheelersburg 11

SAVES — Valley 8 (Aiden Gray), Wheelersburg 9 (Breyden Byrd)

CORNER KICKS — Valley 3, Wheelersburg 2

FOULS — Valley 5, Wheelersburg 7

* * *

Sports Editor Paul Boggs contributed to this report

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