Clover girls, Fort Mill boys advance to first 5A state championships in soccer

Clover’s girls soccer team and Fort Mill’s boys soccer team have advanced to 5A state championship games for the first time.

Both teams posted clean sheets in their matches as Fort Mill had its second-largest victory of the season.

Clover 2, J.L. Mann 0

Clover shutdown J.L. Mann’s offense for a 2-0 victory in the SCHSL 5A Girls Soccer Upper State Championship Tuesday night.

J.L. Mann started the first half with in control of the ball, but Clover’s defense was solid and didn’t allow any clear-cut shots to the Patriots.

The Blue Eagles’ offense started to click as the first half went on, flipping the attacking pressure onto J.L. Mann’s defense.

With 19 minutes left in the first half, a Clover corner was swung into a sea of bodies, and senior defender Elizabeth McAllister headed the ball into the next for the opening goal.

“I saw it come in, and it was finding me,” McAllister said. “I was finding a way to get it in the back of the net. I didn’t care if I used my head, if I used my back, whatever, I was putting it away. We worked so hard for this. That’s the least I could do for my team.”

The second half went the same as the first, with J.L. Mann opening the half with a lot of possessions but unable to break through Clover’s defense.

With 11 minutes left in the match, a clearance found itself at the feet of Clover sophomore forward Ava Grieves.

Grieves dribbled past her marker and split two more defenders down the pitch before curling a shot past the goalkeeper into the lower right of the goal to double Clover’s lead.

As the final whistle sounded, the Blue Eagles stormed the field as the moment finally started to sink in that they were making their first state championship appearance.

“It was a complete breakthrough moment,” Clover head coach Kelsey Black said. “We’ve always faltered either in the third round or upper state...I told the girls, ‘you have an amazing opportunity, and you just need to go out there and take it.’ We capitalized on our opportunities and things went our way. We had a little bit of luck and just feel really blessed. An immense amount of gratitude right now.”

Clover advances to the 5A state championship game as the Blue Eagles will take on Chapin.

The game will be played at 1 p.m. May 10 at Irmo.

Fort Mill 5, J.L. Mann 0

Fort Mill blitzed J.L. Mann 5-0 to advance to the SCHSL 5A Boys Soccer state championship game.

The Yellow Jackets got it rolling early, with senior Braden Gritz scoring two goals in the opening 10 minutes of the contest to give Fort Mill a comfortable lead early.

Fellow senior Ryan Seitz scored a goal of his own before Gritz completed the first-half hat trick to give the Yellow Jackets a 4-0 lead heading into halftime.

“It’s just been what we’ve been practicing all season,” Fort Mill head coach Mark Seren said. “I think with the boys being so focused and driven, it wasn’t necessarily so much tactics, it was coming down to individual plays, wanting it more than the other team.”

The second half saw Gritz add another goal to bring his season total to 24 as Fort Mill’s defense locked down a J.L. Mann team that had only been shutout twice in the past two seasons.

Seren said the fact that it was Fort Mill’s third-straight road playoff game in the Greenville area helped his team. The Yellow Jackets played Hillcrest and Byrnes in the second and third rounds respectively.

“Their stadiums are the old, classic football stadiums with a soccer field inside the track,” Seren said. “It’s very, very narrow. It’s grass. It’s bumpy. It’s entirely different than what we’re accustomed to in York County, which is turf.”

Seren said he even received tips from the Spring Valley and Clover coaching staffs, who played against J.L. Mann this postseason.

This is Fort Mill’s first 5A state championship appearance.

Fort Mill’s lone boys’ soccer state championship came in 2012, when the Yellow Jackets beat Hilton Head 3-1 in the 3A state championship game.

Seren said this gives his seniors a chance to go out on top.

“Last year, with eight juniors, we won the region,” Seren said. “We knew we were going to be strong and challenging for this year. It’s that same nucleus with Ryan and Braden, and just a lot of self-belief and confidence that we could do this....It means so much for them to be as a group and go on this journey, so there’s a lot of pride.”

Fort Mill will take on Stratford in its 5A state championship game match.

The game is scheduled to kickoff 25 minutes after the trophy celebration for the 5A girls game.