Smyrna falls to top-seeded Appo 5-0 in soccer states

MIDDLETOWN — Just making the playoffs this season was a huge accomplishment and Smyrna High’s 5-0 setback to top-seeded juggernaut Appoquimink on Saturday night was the final outcome.

Improving from a dreadful campaign in 2019 to a final 7-5-1 record and eighth seed in this year’s boys’ soccer tournament was a great deal, according to second-year coach Josh Katz.

“This was a one-win team last year and it says a lot about the guys and how they were able to turn it around and earn the right to be in the position they were tonight,” Katz said.

“It took time for them to understand that they have to play together, not separately. They have to play as a team, not as individuals.

“It took time to change the culture of ‘This is Smyrna soccer, we’re not supposed to win.’ Well, the guys figured it all out and I’m extremely proud of them.”

The Eagles were facing long odds in their playoff match, considering the hosts entered with a 12-0 record and had outscored their foes 60-4 in the regular season.

That pretty much played out on the field, where Smyrna was outshot 25-1 and allowed two goals from corner kicks, a free kick and a penalty kick.

The plan to compact its defense around standout goalkeeper Sean Mannering was solid, but in the end it wasn’t enough to stay with the Jaguars.

“We wanted to make them beat us in the flow of the play and not off set pieces,” Katz said. “That’s not how it worked out, though. We were facing a very talented team and I’m glad that the seniors got to go out playing the very best.”

Smyrna stayed within one goal for nearly 40 minutes before Appoquinimink finally eased the suspense. Keegan Miller scored just before the second 20-minute quarter ended for a 2-0 lead, and three more goals followed in the 54th, 68th and 69th minutes. Cody Niggebrugge scored twice, and his twin brother Colby and Hindovie Tucker added one goal each.

Mannering said the Eagles had the hosts well scouted, but stopping them was a different story. Despite his best efforts with sliding saves, taking blasts to his chests and hands, batting shots away, the No. 1 seed proved too tough to handle.

“They were very good and I’ve very tired right now,” Mannering said. “All week our coaches said they would be shooting a lot from 20 to 30 yards out and that’s what they did.”