T.C. Williams junior Manuel Benites sent a corner kick toward the near post in the sixth minute of Tuesday’s game against West Springfield. What happened next is uncertain, but all that mattered to the Titans was the end result — a goal and a 1-0 lead against the undefeated Spartans.
"Everyone was making runs to the front post so I just tried to put it right there," Benites said. "… I just saw the ball hit the net and that’s when I knew it was a goal. Everyone was asking, ‘Who hit it? Who hit it?’ … I don’t know, [but] it’s a goal."
The Titans and their coaching staff couldn’t figure out who deflected the ball into the net, but it was clear TC played with confidence after taking the lead. The Titans controlled the game early and nearly added to their lead when Alex Mansaray hit the right post in the 20th minute. However, West Springfield turned things around with goals from Jannik Eckenrode and Wais Ansary late in the first half and held on for a 2-1 victory at Parker-Gray Stadium.
TC’s record fell to 1-3-2, but the Titans proved capable of competing with the team atop the Patriot District standings. West Springfield improved to 3-0-3, including 3-0 in the district, where TC is 0-2-1.
"First half, I think we played really well," Benites said. "I feel as if we dominated in the beginning. Second half, things changed a little bit. The wind kind of hurt us a little bit, but I think we hung in there for the most part [and] held our own."
TC head coach Martin Nickley said he was pleased with the way the Titans responded to the emotional swing of falling behind after taking an early lead.
"That’s a top-notch opponent there," Nickley said. "They’re first place in the district at this point. You come in at halftime and you feel like, ‘Well, now we’re just completely demoralized. We just gave up the lead, now we’ve got to go into the wind, now we’ve got to go into the sun,’ so they could have just mailed it in at that point, but we certainly came out and played really, really hard in that second half. It was a good tribute to the boys."
Benites was credited with the Titans’ goal.
"He particularly works a lot on set pieces," Nickley said. "He loves to strike the ball and works on that a lot. Placing the ball right there is something he really works at. We have looked to score on set pieces, that’s something we want to do and that was an excellent strike on his part."
The Titans are led by an experienced corps of defenders. Senior sweeper Tripp Spurio was a first-team all-region selection last season. Senior Paolo Torres is a four-year starter and senior Andrew Frank is the Titans’ left back.
Offensively, junior forward Mansaray leads TC with four goals.
"He’s a very skillful player that strikes the ball real well and is strong in the air," Nickley said. "He’s good on the ground and also good in the air … and has very good touch on the ball."
Nickley said positive results will come with continued hard work.
"We certainly accomplished a goal today of putting our best foot forward and working hard," the coach said, "and with that the wins will come."