The No. 5 Caesar Rodney High School boys soccer team might have fallen short of its goal this year to win a state championship, but that doesn't mean the team didn't leave the field with a sense of optimism as its season came to an end in the state semifinals.
Falling to two-time defending state champion No. 1 Salesianum School (16-1), 3-0, Nov. 17 at Smyrna High School, the Riders (14-3-1) left the field with players holding their heads high and repeating, "We'll be back next year."
CR kept things close for the majority of the first half, with sophomore keeper Kevin Sheahan playing a stellar game in which he made nine saves, most of which were of the jaw-dropping variety.
Sallies, however, broke through with two goals late in the first half, and added a third late in the second half to punch its ticket to the state finals, where it will face No. 3 Indian River High School (17-1) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Smyrna High School.
Even though the Riders were underdogs in the game, Head Coach Darrell Gravatt said he and his players were optimistic throughout the contest that CR was on the verge of breaking through and pulling off an upset.
In the end, though, he said Sallies had enough to hold off his team's potent attack and secure a win.
"I thought we'd score," he said. "We have a very good attack, but to their credit they didn't give up anything. They have a great team, a great defense, but I still think we played better. We're a very good team but tonight they were a little better."
As its set to graduate only three seniors, though, the Riders will return a strong team in 2013. And Gravatt isn't excited about any player more than his sophomore keeper, who even in a loss was the star of the semifinals game.
"If there's a better keeper anywhere in the country, I haven't seen him," the coach said of Sheahan. "I've never seen a better performance than that. He saved almost everything. He's a great keeper, the best keeper that I have ever seen in my life, anywhere, in a non-professional setting."
As the Riders move into the long offseason now, Gravatt said they'll do so with only positive memories of their deep playoff run and strong 2012 campaign.
"I am really proud of these guys," he said. "It was a great season and I think it takes a formidable team to beat us, and [Sallies is] a formidable team. And there's no shame in that."