Oct. 25—It had been 12 years since Shady Spring last won a boys soccer sectional championship.
Since that moment in 2011, success was at times hard to come by. There was a winless season, a one-win season and a two-win season along the way.
That did eventually change and the Tigers found themselves again competing for sectional championships. They regularly faced a road block in PikeView, falling to the Panthers in the championship game in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Michael Vecellio wasn’t with the team for the 2020 game, transferring out of North Carolina his sophomore season. But he did feel the Panthers’ sting two straight years.
He — and his teammates — were determined not to let it happen again.
“Those years, it hurt me. Both of them,” Vecellio said. “So this year we came out and I said, ‘We have to win this.'”
Setting the stage for last Saturday’s Class AA/A Region 3, Section 1 championship against those familiar Panthers, the Tigers were finally able to clear the obstacle. And Vecellio, as he had all season, was a big part of it.
Vecellio’s heads-up goal on a penalty kick put the Tigers ahead early in the second half and they held on the rest of the way for a 2-1 title-clinching win.
It was a big week for Vecellio, who had scored four goals in Shady Spring’s 6-0 win over Bluefield in the sectional semifinals.
Vecellio’s performance in perhaps a turnaround moment for the program earned him Register-Herald Athlete of the Week honors.
Winning the title in the final home game of his career was the perfect scenario for Vecellio.
“This was my last game on this field. So it’s like, do I want to go out on a win?,” he said.
Vecellio’s brother Nathan staked the Tigers to a 1-0 lead in the first half, but a penalty kick by PikeView’s Michael O’Sullivan tied the game for the Panthers three minutes into the second half.
The game-winner came exactly three minutes later.
The Panthers were called for a penalty in front of the goal, giving the Tigers a shot at the PK. Vecellio blasted a shot that keeper Drew Damewood was able to dive to his left and bat down.
However, the ball was loose and Vecellio, still alone, stayed alert despite the miss and knocked the ball in to put the Tigers back on top.
“I didn’t feel nervous at all. I mean, he saved it. It was a good save,” Vecellio said. “It comes back to me and I just kept my composure, tapped it back in the other way that he dived from.”
The play was representative of the type of player Vecellio has been.
“He is a dynamic player and he doesn’t go to sleep,” head coach Josiah Smith said. “It would have been easy to take the PK and see that it was saved and sort of hang your head. He’s up for it. He’s ready for the next thing and he was alive to it and put it away.”
The season didn’t end the way the Tigers wanted after Tuesday’s heartbreaking Region 3 championship loss at Charleston Catholic. The game was tied 1-1 after two overtimes, forcing PKs.
Both teams made their first five — Shady’s first was by Vecellio — and the Irish buried their sixth. Shady’s sixth attempt was saved, sending the Irish to next week’s state tournament in Beckley as the back-to-back defending champions.
It was a breakthrough season for the Tigers, who won 10 of their last 12 games. They are 26-11-2 over the last two seasons, Smith’s first two as head coach.
And Vecellio has been huge. He finished this season with 35 goals and seven assists, after going for 31 and five as a junior.
Oak Hill football’s Adam Long won the reader poll with 33.2 percent of the vote. Alyson McManamay of Greenbrier East girls soccer was next with 20.7
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