BLADENSBURG – For Axa Hernandez Tapia, transferring to Bladensburg High School his senior year was not as a tragic of an experience even though others deal with moving away from their friends their final year of high school differently.
Instead, Hernandez was welcomed with open arms to Bladensburg, a family reunion of sorts as he reunited with old teammates from William Wirt Middle School.
With the built-in chemistry established, Hernandez quickly adapted and suddenly became the orchestrator in the midfield for the Mustangs, the defense and the strikers.
“All I did was help strengthen a little bit offensively and defensively to what they had already in the midfield,” Hernandez said. “We have really good attacking players so sometimes, and I just cut passes off and dribble it up to pass the ball to my wingers to get something off of it.”
His work organizing the midfield helped assists twice to lead Bladensburg to a 2-0 victory over DuVal on Oct. 26 in the first round of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) boys soccer state playoffs.
With Hernandez running the midfield, feeding passing at will to strikers Miguel Contreras Alfaro and Shaku Wagay allowed the Mustangs (7-4) to change their approach, from a more counterattacking side to a pressing forward into a more pressing attack.
“He’s used to playing with them, and he just fits right in, he is maybe even our missing piece in midfield,” Head Coach Julianna Ocampos-Barry said. “It’s like he has been with us the whole time.”
Bladensburg was more of the aggressor against the Tigers, bombarding their goal net with shots. They flooded the Tigers’ goal with 17 shots, eight of which were on target.
In the 34th minute, Hernandez collected a loose ball and ran down the left side of the field before crashing inside the penalty area. The senior’s fancy footwork and speed flew by two defenders before finding Isaac Sales Torres to score Bladensburg’s first goal.
Both teams played physically throughout, racking up a combined 20 fouls and a yellow card for each side.
Coming out of halftime, DuVal (4-5-2) possessed the ball more and attempted more risky opportunities in the Bladensburg half. Meanwhile, freshman Daniel Villatoro made nine saves during the whole match, giving the Tigers a chance.
Forced to weather the Tigers’ attack, Bladensburg went into a defensive shell and began going back into their original counterattack strategy. And it worked, as Hernandez fired off a slicing pass in-between two defenders to find a running Wagay. The junior striker hit a low shot past Villatoro for the Mustangs’ second goal. The two quickly embraced after the goal in celebration.
“I am glad he passed to me, so I help get another point on the board,” Wagay said. “(Hernandez) pushes me to do better, encourages me to do better and makes sure I keep my head up; he is a wonderful player to play with.”
DuVal continued to attack forward, but Mustangs senior goalkeeper Hinwaii Salia made two saves to keep his shutout active. First, as senior Samuel Diaz took a low-range shot on goal, Salia made a left-footed stop. When Diaz headed a second chance on goal off a corner kick, the senior slapped it over the crossbar as the final second ticked away.
Once the final whistle blew, Diaz and several DuVal players sat on the ground and began weeping. The playoff loss would be his and nine other senior players final game wearing DuVal colors.
“We are obviously disappointed with the results,” Head Coach Gerard Yavo said. “We made two costly mistakes, and those mistakes turned into goals… It’s just sad for us because we have some many seniors on our team and we thought that we would have a much better result.”
UPDATE: Bladensburg scored three straight goals, two coming from Hernandez and one by Wagay, to defeat top-seeded Parkdale on October 30 in the second round of the state playoffs. The Panthers entered the contest as the home team and the top seed in the section one side of the 4A South bracket.
Hernandez spent his first three years at the Riverdale-based school but was looking to defeat Parkdale in order to keep Bladensburg’s state title dreams live.
“I was not cleared to play the first game, so I am excited for this,” said Hernandez before the game. “It will be a good game, and we will play on turf (at Fairmont Heights High School), so both teams will play good and play our best.”
Bladensburg will take on the winner of Northwestern/Laurel in the sectional finals on Nov. 2.