BAILEY – Southern Nash is headed to the final of the Big East Conference Tournament, and Firebirds coach Kurt Bienias, for one, couldn’t be happier that a garbage goal is the reason.
Second-seeded Southern Nash scored the deciding goal on a second-half scramble play in the box to eliminate No. 3 seed Wilson Fike, 2-1, on Tuesday at Southern Nash High School.
“We have such talented guys that can strike the ball really well, that are pretty goals – but I like the crap goals,” Bienias said. “That’s what I love. I love it when you show more heart and determination to be there than your opponent.”
A 1-1 tie was broken for good when midfielder Moises Gonzalez made a run down the left side of Fike’s formation and put a low shot on target. Fike goalkeeper Matt Brown stopped the first attempt but had no help from his defenders, and Ismael Rodriguez raced in from the midfield, picked up the rebound and scored a 55th-minute goal.
“As usual, you see me and Moi do that little give, and after I saw he made that last cut, I knew he was going to shoot it,” Rodriguez said. “Coach always reminds us to be there just in case it ricochets off the keeper, and I just finished.”
Southern Nash had the better of possession in the first half, but Fike proved just as dangerous in terms of chances.
The Firebirds sent a point-blank header over the bar in the eighth minute, then slammed the crossbar with another close header in the 17th, while Fike couldn’t capitalize off a pair of dangerous free kicks a short time later.
Southern Nash took a 1-0 lead on a beautiful spell of possession from Gonzalez, who won a 50-50 ball near the half-way line and carried into Fike’s defensive third. Gonzalez held up play by running from right to left, then teed up Rodriguez, who took one touch to his right and fired home from 20 yards for a 34th-minute lead.
“I know what he’s going to do every single time, and I knew I had to be there,” Rodriguez said. “He does it every single time.”
The problem for Southern Nash was it gave the lead right back three minutes later.
The Firebirds gifted the Golden Demons a goal with a panicked clearance that was mishit. The ball fell to the feet of unmarked Hunter Lee, who scored.
“It’s the Achilles heel for us. It’s not the first time that’s happened,” Bienias said. “When you have great players, sometimes they score and want to take a mental break. ... That’s what happened. One of our players was taking a mental break, and he didn’t come cover someone.”
The Golden Demons and Firebirds went into half tied, and the Golden Demons went after an early goal in the second half.
Southern Nash’s small field enticed Fike into several dangerous shots from distance, but Southern Nash keeper Will Lilles was able to keep all of them out.
“They shoot from everywhere, so I had to be on my toes,” Lilles said.
Rodriguez’s hustle goal was enough, even without center back Pablo Mier, who left the game with a knee injury in the second half.
The Firebirds will play in the final Thursday, and Bienias said they need more plays like the winning goal in the semifinals.
“I was more excited about the second goal than the first one,” Bienias said. “... We haven’t always been all the way into the goal-mouth to be there.
“Ish came from a midfield position. He wasn’t playing forward. He had that proactiveness, that desire to get there and be there from midfield. It was perfect.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com