OXFORD — Aaron Barrett doesn’t know how his star soccer player got the nickname “Lion King.” The first-year Oxford coach just more readily calls Alexis Fernandez by his nickname.
“It was already his nickname when I got here,” Barrett said. “They call him that so much, that I just started calling him that, too.”
Fernandez played like a lion king in Saturday’s Calhoun County final, scoring four goals as third-seeded Oxford asserted itself as the lion of Calhoun County soccer with 10-2 rout of top-seeded Saks at Choccolocco Park.
It was a dominant performance for Oxford (7-7), a 6A school which lost the inaugural Calhoun County tourney final to 1A Donoho in 2017. The Yellow Jackets built a 5-0 lead in the match’s first 20 minutes and led 7-2 at halftime.
A lot fueled Oxford’s performance, starting with bad memories from last year. The Yellow Jackets missed key players in that game because of church obligations from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
This year’s final started at 6 p.m., late enough for the Yellow Jackets to have their full roster for much of the game. Three players arrived on the sideline during the match to Barrett’s friendly greeting.
“How was church?” he said.
Oxford’s seeding also didn’t sit well. The Yellow Jackets lost to Saks 3-1 before seedings were announced, but Saks lost goalkeeper Javier Castillo to a knee injury in that match. Oxford won their next meeting 5-0 on Tuesday.
By that time, the Yellow Jackets had adjusted their approach to more of a passing game, and early losses to the likes of state champion Pelham and Hoover had steeled the Yellow Jackets.
“The fact that we got seeded third when we knew we were the best team in the county kind of drove us, too,” Barrett said. “We felt disrespected.”
Fernandez, who played in last year’s final, put Oxford’s motivation simply: “Revenge.”
One wouldn’t know it to look at Fernandez now, but the junior had long hair as a freshman. His mane became most prominent when he ran.
“Some people said it glazed when I ran,” he said.
Hence, he became the “Lion King” to his teammates. Even with shorter hair, the nickname fits, Barrett said, but for different reasons.
“He’s an absolute phenomenal player,” Barrett said. “He’s, without a doubt, the best player in the county, probably in the state. His vision, his knowledge of the game, his abilities are second to none.
“He’s second to none. He really makes the team click.”
All-tournament pick Misael Reyes added two goals for Oxford. Hector Cacares, the tourney’s most outstanding defensive player, and Christian Fernandez scored one apiece. Rudy Calderon and Zane Barbao also made the all-tournament team.
Saks (7-4) helped Oxford with two own goals but got goals from Jakorious Watkins, the tourney’s most outstanding offensive player, and Fruk Promraj scored the other. Jahir Ortiz-Rodriguez and Anthony Cornejo also made the all-tournament team.
Like Oxford, Saks is a different team from the one that took the field in the Wildcats’ first meeting with Oxford this season. Not only did the Wildcats lost Castillo, forcing top fullback Roilan Torres back into the goal, but a bad back hampered Cornejo.
“We’re banged up,” first-year Saks coach Lamus McCombs said. “It caused us to have a couple of holes on the defensive side. When they scored those five quick goals, it deflated us.”
Rounding out the all-tournament team were Jacksonville’s Eric Ausborn, Donoho’s Mac Love, Anniston’s Melvin Fernandez, Weaver’s Kyle Knight, Sacred Heart’s Jeremy Kirkland and Faith Christian’s Charles Conway.
Oxford, which has won its past four matches after a four-match losing streak, will round out the regular season at Jacksonville on Thursday and at home, against Southside (April 17) and Mountain Brook (April 21).
“We’re going to have a long season. We’re going to make that playoff run,” Barrett said. “I feel good. We’re playing the best soccer that we’ve played all season. We’ve just got to keep doing what we do.”