McCallie senior Blake Singer couldn't have picked a much better time to score his first goal of the season.
With the regular-season Division II Mid-East Region title on the line Friday, the host Blue Tornado found themselves locked in a 2-2 battle with rival Baylor. As the clock ticked down to mark the midway point of the second half, Singer came through with a hard strike to the back of the net, and his go-ahead goal led McCallie to a 4-2 victory that guarantees his team a first-round bye and home-field advantage when postseason play begins.
"For him to be a senior and to get his first goal at that point in time, I'm just really happy for him," Blue Tornado coach Tony Meyers said. "Blake has worked hard this year."
The last time McCallie took the soccer field against its rival, the Red Raiders pulled a stunning upset that kept the top-seeded Blue Tornado from advancing to the state final four. On Friday, McCallie came out with a goal in the opening minute from Marek Stout, but Meyers said his players weren't focused on avenging last year's defeat.
"We just have to treat this as another region game," Meyers said. "It just happens to be against the guys in red. We know what they're going to bring; we know Curtis (Blair) is going to have them ready to play. This game is about pride and desire, and both teams showed that today."
Stout's goal was the first of his two in the first half against Baylor, but both times Red Raiders sophomore OT Bah responded with an equalizer to send the match into the half tied at 2-2. Both teams created several scoring chances in the second period, but only the Blue Tornado managed to finish any. Singer scored with 20:31 remaining, and AJ Cook came off the bench to add an insurance goal for McCallie about six minutes later.
"In the second half, we made a couple of tactical adjustments," Meyers said. "In the last 20 minutes of the first half, they were beating us to the ball. But we have eight seniors, and we talked at halftime about some things we wanted to do differently, and I think we came out and played much better on defense."
The Blue Tornado had assists from Hunter Brock, Arturo Rocha and Stout, while Ramsey Seagle and Philipp Leeger assisted for the Red Raiders, who dropped their first region game of the season. Baylor coach Curtis Blair said much of the credit for the defeat should go to McCallie midfielder David Barnes, who controlled much of the play on Friday.
"We had no answer for him in the midfield," Blair said. "He was everywhere, and he won everything. I think we also gave the ball away at some bad times, which is something we don't usually do."
The Red Raiders are now 6-3-4 overall and 2-1-1 in the Mid-East, with three region matches remaining that will determine postseason seeding. McCallie improved to 14-2 overall and completed region play with a perfect 7-0 record. The Blue Tornado can now finish out the regular season with the knowledge that when the playoffs begin, they'll be playing at home as the region's No. 1 seed.
"We've been kind of a road team this year," Meyers said. "This was our fifth and final home game for the regular season, and it's nice to know we won't have to travel. Ultimately, you want to get to the final four, but you have to take one step at a time."
(E-mail Jaime Barrett at email@example.com