MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - The Baylor soccer team that Father Ryan saw when the teams faced off less than three weeks ago was not the same Red Raiders who took the pitch against the Nashville side in a Division II-AA state semifinal Wednesday evening.
That was evident by the final score.
Two second-half goals and a strong defensive effort gave the Red Raiders a 2-0 win at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex. Baylor (14-4-1) advanced to the state final tonight at 8 EDT against the winner between Montgomery Bell Academy and Christian Brothers.
The Red Raiders learned Tuesday that Hugh Curtis "Curt" Blair, father of coach Curtis Blair, had lost a five-year battle with cancer and died that morning. The players had armbands made with the initials "HCB" on them, and assistant coach Scott Bosgraf assumed head-coaching duties, but the team received a jolt when Blair showed up moments before the game.
The Irish scored three goals in the first six minutes of the teams' regular-season match on May 3 and won 4-1.
"We've talked about adversity all year long," Blair said. "Forget about wins and losses: Last time we played, we got shelled. We lost our composure, but today we kept our composure, our shape and limited their chances. I thought we did a great job and the guys played with a lot of heart and soul, and that's a tribute to them."
After a scoreless first half, the Raiders assumed control in the final 40 minutes, and as they did, they maintained their cool while the top-ranked Irish (9-5-3) started to lose theirs.
In the 46th minute, Robert Stagmaier touched a pass to Austin Rehm, who had his back to the goal in the box. The senior midfielder lofted a bicycle kick into the goal for a 1-0 lead.
"All week we said we were winning this game," Rehm said. "Last time we played, that wasn't us. Baylor's about defense, and we didn't play like last time.
"We know Curtis was very close to his dad and we respect that; we wanted to show we supported him and we're behind him all the way. We didn't know he was coming to the game, and when we saw him in the stands, it gave us another boost and we tore it up."
Minutes after Rehm's goal, Father Ryan sophomore midfielder Stephen Bailey was issued a red card for language, which forced the Irish to play with 10 players. They continued to apply pressure and had a near-goal in the 71st minute when Jason Lackore touched a ball past Baylor goalkeeper Colin Brewer, who had come almost out of the box. The ball was bounding toward the goal, but Tim Linke cleared it out of bounds before it crossed the line.
The Baylor defense was stout all match in shutting down Father Ryan star forward Lowry Wilson, inserting midfielder/defender Sam Stewart in front of him at all times and limiting his touches on the ball. Brewer totaled 10 saves, including some of the spectular variety when the Irish tried to attack from all angles late in the match.
Baylor added an insurance goal in the 74th minute when an Alex Tyler corner kick was ruled to have crossed the plane.
"God is good," Blair said. "It was 12 versus 11 out there today. I think my father's looking down on us today, and it was worth it.
"Once you get here, you give yourself a 50-50 chances, and that's all we can ask for. It's what you talk about at the beginning of the year, and now we're here."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.