By Aaron McFarling
RADFORD – Before Saturday, Bradford Mills had started one game all season for the Blacksburg boys soccer team.
He knew how to handle start No. 2.
Thrust into the lineup because a teammate was late for practice, Mills scored two second-half goals to bookend Blacksburg’s 4-0 victory over Tuscarora in the VHSL Group AA semifinals at Radford University.
“It feels amazing, I’m not going to lie,” Mills said.
Especially given the history between these two teams. Tuscarora (22-2) had defeated Blacksburg 4-1 at this same stage last year, so the Bruins weren’t expecting such a decisive result.
“You’ve got to keep an open mind, right?” midfielder Geinda Smith said with a smile.
The win moves Blacksburg (20-0-2) into Sunday’s 10 a.m. Group AA final for the 19th time in the past 25 seasons. The Bruins, who’ve won a record 11 state championships, will face E.C. Glass – a team they beat 1-0 on April 13.
Saturday’s scoreless match turned in the 42nd minute, when Blacksburg co-captain Mitchell Williams sent a long pass from the midfield toward Mills. The junior forward got a nice first touch to control the ball, then sped between two defenders flanking him.
One-on-one with Tuscarora keeper Adam Kight, Mills found the lower-corner of the net to break the deadlock.
“Bradford does have that burst of speed,” said Blacksburg coach Shelley Blumenthal, who’s given Mills copious minutes in a reserve role. “He controls his body very well. If he can get a good first touch, which he did, as soon as you saw him you said, ‘He’s going to get by ‘em.’ He just tucked it nicely into the corner. Very composed on his finish.”
Just three minutes later, Williams made a nifty move just outside the 18-yard box to shake a defender, then blasted the ball into the upper-left corner of the net to make it 2-0.
A strike Smith deemed “sick” was made even more impressive given that Williams is left-footed — and delivered the rocket with his right foot.
“The second goal’s just a beautiful shot,” Tuscarora coach Dave Gryder said. “We didn’t put enough pressure on him.”
Blumenthal downplayed the revenge factor before this game – stressing instead how explosive Tuscarora’s attack can be – but last year’s result was in the minds of his players.
“It was everything, really,” said Smith, who scored on a penalty kick in the 56th minute. “Everything. When you lose to a team that bad, like last year, you’ve got to come out and show them that you really weren’t chumps. I guess we did that.”
Junior keeper Gillen Beck made seven saves for Blacksburg, which has allowed just six goals all season.
Mills capped the scoring with another nifty one-on-one move, leapfrogging the diving keeper and caressing the ball into the lower-left corner in the 65th minute.
That was the ninth goal of the year for Mills, who didn’t know he’d be starting until Friday’s practice.
“I guess sometimes things happen for a reason,” Williams said. “It definitely worked out today. He’s been great off the bench all year, just the energy he brings after the first 10, 15 minutes. No teams can match it.”