Darlington soccer coach Chris Babb summed up the end of his team’s season with ease — they played a team much bigger and much faster.
The Tigers fell to Putnam County 6-2 Friday night in the GHSA Class AA state quarterfinals in Eatonton, unable to recover after falling four goals behind early in the game.
It is the second consecutive season Darlington has lost in the quarterfinals after falling to Wesleyan last year.
“We made a few mistakes early and got in our own heads, but they just wanted it,” Babb said, referring to the host Eagles. “They wanted it and they played very very well. They just got us out of our game, and went right into their game.”
Tanner Berry scored both goals for Darlington (12-6-1), with one coming on a penalty kick and the other with an assist from Jack Pearson. The team actually tied Putnam over the final 50 minutes, but the start of the game was too much to overcome.
The Eagles (18-1-2) scored four goals in the first thirty minutes to go up 4-0, using their size to win nearly every ball and own possession. According to Babb, the inability to make the passes and shots the Tigers typically make flustered them early.
“You can see the players’ frustrations, no doubt,” Babb said. “You get one or two goals down, and things can unravel from there.”
Babb added the new experience of longer travel may have affected the players. This was the longest trip Darlington has made in the past few seasons, traveling more than two hours.
Despite the loss, Babb remains proud of a season featuring another region championship and two impressive postseason victories. While he would love to play again on Tuesday in the Final Four, he is still happy for his players.
“This is where we got last season, I would have loved to get to the semifinals, but it’s still a really successful season,” Babb said. “Beating a team in Region 6-AA in the first round showed a lot, and these players gave all they could.”
Darlington began the postseason with a 2-1 win in a grueling battle against Lovett. Pearson and Berry each contributed a goal, while goalkeeper Billy Biscoe made nine saves and shut out the Lions in the second half.
The Tigers then exploded in the second round with a 7-0 rout against Vidalia. Pearson recorded a hat trick as the ball stayed on one side of the field most of the match.