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Late J.L. Mann goal dooms Clover in boys’ soccer state quarterfinals

J.L. Mann scored a late goal in extra time for a 3-2 victory against Clover in the 5A boys soccer upper state semifinals Friday night, ending the Blue Eagles’ 5A upper state championship defense.

J.L. Mann got on the board first with 15 minutes left in the first half as the Patriots kept the Blue Eagles defense busy for the entire first half.

J.L. Mann’s 1-0 lead held into halftime.

However, the second half saw Clover change its formation to open up its offense more as J.L. Mann proceeded to sit further back defensively to salt away the game.

The formation change paid dividends for Clover.

Sophomore Gavin Pierce (21, dark blue) got the scoring started for Clover in its 3-2 loss to J.L. Mann in the 2024 5A Boys Soccer Upper State Semifinals on May 3. Bryan Dillon
Sophomore Gavin Pierce (21, dark blue) got the scoring started for Clover in its 3-2 loss to J.L. Mann in the 2024 5A Boys Soccer Upper State Semifinals on May 3. Bryan Dillon

Clover sophomore Gavin Pierce curled a shot past J.L. Mann’s goalkeeper into the right side of the goal to tie the game with just under 19 minutes left in the match.

Three minutes later, senior Landon Sykes rocketed a shot with his left foot that soared over all players into the top right corner to give the Blue Eagles a 2-1 lead.

“We went to a 4-3-3,” Clover head coach Graham Stafford said. “We switched out from our shape to a wider shape to try and isolate their fullbacks with our good dribblers so we can take them on and get down the right-hand side. We moved Gavin, who is more of a striker, to right back, and he scored the goal. We were really just going for it, and we got changed out and it worked.”

Trailing 2-1, J.L. Mann turned back on the offensive pressure, and it was rewarded.

With just over four minutes left in the match, J.L. Mann was the first to a deflected ball in the box and was able to put it into the net, tying the game at 2-2 as the match went into extra time.

Senior Landon Sykes (17, dark blue) strikes the ball with his left foot for a goal to put Clover up 2-1 in the Blue Eagles’ 3-2 loss to J.L. Mann on May 3. Bryan Dillon
Senior Landon Sykes (17, dark blue) strikes the ball with his left foot for a goal to put Clover up 2-1 in the Blue Eagles’ 3-2 loss to J.L. Mann on May 3. Bryan Dillon

Both teams traded offensive chances for the opening 20 minutes of extra time.

A late corner for J.L. Mann was sent into the box, and the ball sailed through a sea of bodies before a Patriot managed to get a touch on it and put it past the goalkeeper for the game-winning goal.

“At that point, everyone’s gassed, you’re running on fumes, adrenaline,” Stafford said. “You can’t get any instructions across because the atmosphere is so loud. You just got to let the boys try and handle it.”

This was a top-15 matchup for Clover (No. 7 in MaxPreps in spring boys soccer) and J.L. Mann (No. 11), and Stafford said that the intensity matched that billing.

This was the fourth time in the last seven years that these two have met in the postseason; this game now puts Clover at 1-3 in that span.

“That’s the state championship game, right there,” Stafford said. “Two heavyweights just slugging each other all night long. ... It was a quality game. ...You get in the playoffs, to games like this, and there’s fine margins. You talk about inches in games and just such tight, tight margins, and we were just a little short tonight.

“I’m really proud of (my players). We left it all out there. If you’re going to go out, you got to leave it all out there, and we did that. I’m super proud of them. This hurts, this stings. We got a lot of seniors, and you think it’s going to be your year. We knew it was going to be tough. We weren’t complacent all year, we weren’t cocky.

“But we were confident we had the squad, and the ball just bounced the wrong way for us a couple of times, so that was the difference.”

Clover ends its season at 22-2, while J.L. Mann advances to host Fort Mill in the upper state championship game on May 6.