Aquinas soccer coach Randy Meyer is always pleased with his team's play in the regular season. It's in the postseason when he gets the jitters.
So, when his Irish took a 5-2 decision over Union County in the first round of the Class AA/A state playoffs Thursday, Meyer felt a sense of relief, even though his squad is ranked No. 2 in the state.
"We're always one of the top teams in the state," he said. "But it's something about the playoffs. We kind of stumble against the weaker teams. I made sure we didn't do that against Union County. It was an ugly game, but we live on."
With the victory, Aquinas advances to the second round. They will travel May 11 to face the Wesleyan-Darlington winner.
The seventh-year head coach had legitimate reasons for concern. Aquinas has been ranked in the state's top five the past five seasons but has never advanced past the semifinals in postseason play.
His team went into the playoffs ranked No. 2 in the state last season, only to lose a 2-1 contest to Brookstone in the first round.
"We took them too lightly," he said. "Last year's team had a lot of talent but expected the championship to be handed to them. This year's squad has a lot of character - more of a blue-collar team. We can't look past anybody."
The Irish (13-4-1) got inspired play from Taylor Turnage, who scored three goals and assisted another score against Union County. He got help from Scott Rhodes, who added another goal and assisted on two more. Nolan Garrison accounted for two goals, scoring one and assisting the other.
Aquinas was able to keep Union County at bay behind the duo of Matthew Brigman and Sean Rosales, who had three and two saves, respectively. Union County goalkeeper Gabe Mantovani garnered nine saves but couldn't fend off the Irish's quick-play pass attack led by Turnage.
"Taylor's been strong all season," Meyer said. "He's been a great addition to the team. I'll give them a day off and then we'll have about four days to prepare. I already know the next round will be a challenge. The goal for this team is a state championship. We know we have to take it one game at a time."
Reach Patrick Green at (803) 648-1395.
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