At this point in the season, any team Benjamin Russell’s boys soccer team plays is going to be a handful. That’s not going to change tonight when the Wildcats visit Pelham, which has proven to be a tough team all season.
Just like the Wildcats will have their hands full with Pelham, Benjamin Russell is going to be no slouch for the Panthers. Both teams enter tonight’s AHSAA Class 6A quarterfinal set for 7 p.m. ranked in the top 10 in the state by EuroSportScoreboard.com, and both teams have knocked off some quality opponents en route to tonight’s matchup.
The teams’ only common opponent is Stanhope Elmore, which BRHS defeated Tuesday in the second round. The Mustangs beat Pelham, 3-1, during the regular season.
“Of course, mentality wise that goes give us some confidence,” Benjamin Russell coach Austin Teel said, “but where they’re at in their season and where we’re at, they did a lot of the same things. They beat Chelsea (in the second round) who beat them two times in the regular season, and they took down a top-10 team in Northridge. So it’s a very similar matchup, I feel, and I think just going into this game, it’s going to be about a lot of heart and who wants it more.”
Both teams are coming off narrow and thrilling victories. Pelham defeated Chelsea, 1-0, in overtime Tuesday, while the Wildcats topped Stanhope, 3-2.
Pelham’s biggest threats offensively are Irvin Rodriguez, Eber Serrano and Jaylen Cook. Serrano has scored two of the Panthers’ three playoff goals this season, while Rodriguez has a ton of playoff experience, helping them to a state championship two years ago.
“They have a really fast forward and he scores a lot of their goals,” Teel said. “They have a lot of plays on that right side, and they have a really good center mid that they try to run everything through.”
Defensively, the Wildcats will need to be aware of Pelman’s entire back end but Greg Blue and David Herrera are their two biggest defensive standouts. The Panthers also boast goalkeeper David Clinton, who hasn’t allowed more than three goals in a game this season has given up one or less in 18 of 24 games.
While Pelham clearly has some solid players, Benjamin Russell has its own who can match those. Luke Harvey was on fire during the second round, scoring all three goals in the win over Stanhope. Lucas Roberts also had a standout game in the midfield, but it was the defense that really stood out for the Wildcats. Dylan Riley, Deshaun Gonzalez, Brandon Welcher and Utal Patel all looked strong on the backline.
Defense was the main focus for the Wildcats in their game against SEHS, but Pelham should expect a more offense-first attack from BRHS tonight.
“Against Stanhope, we stood back and sat back and let them develop the attack,” Teel said. “But this time, we’re going to reverse things and try to really push the ball. Right now, I think the key is we gotta match their physicality and we gotta have that same fight that we brought Tuesday night. We gotta maintain that throughout the game. We need to make sure we’re always thinking as a team and not trying to play as individuals.”