Fort Mill’s Rory Nowicki gives chase during the Jackets opening round game against Gaffney of the 5A playoffs. Photos by Angela Holt

Fort Mill couldn’t afford to start flat Monday evening against Gaffney, said Fort Mill head boys soccer coach Mark Seren.

His Yellow Jackets squad responded by working hard all over the pitch to secure a comfortable 4-0 win in the first round of the Class 5A boys soccer state tournament.

“I told them what we had to do,” Seren said. “Last year, we had a home game on a Monday. We needed to make sure we were overworking them.”

Fort Mill, which improved to 12-8-1, scored three first-half goals to set the tempo, then added a fourth goal not long after the halftime break as Seren’s team secured its berth in the second round of the playoffs.

The Yellow Jackets will next play at Hillcrest on Wednesday, May 1. The Rams defeated Blythewood 2-1 in their first-round matchup on Monday night.

Fort Mill came out firing and rarely let up, creating the large majority of the first-half chances against Gaffney.

It took less than five minutes for the home side to take the lead. Braden Gritz played a neat through-ball into the Gaffney penalty box to teammate Ryan Seitz, who finished coolly past Gaffney goalkeeper Romeo Avizinis.

Ten minutes later, Gritz showed off his talent with a delightful solo effort. Collecting the ball from Connor Fredenberg, Gritz turned his defender inside and out before finishing with a low, right-footed effort to double the Yellow Jackets’ lead.

Winger Camden Slaney nearly played provider in the 24th minute when his in-swinging cross narrowly missed two Fort Mill strikers arriving at the back post.

Juan Jose Gomes enjoyed a decent shot from 12 yards out, but he chose power over placement as the ball skipped past the far post.

Fort Mill finally found its third goal of the night when Elian Belyshev slotted home a shot past Avizinis in the 40th minute, thanks to Slaney’s smart outlet pass.

Seren praised the efforts of senior standouts Seitz and Gritz, who have been team leaders for years. Seitz has been out with an injury for about a month, but started Monday’s matchup.

“I’m truly blessed to have those two,” Seren said. “They’re magic together. They work so hard for each other.”

Gritz notched his second goal of the night when he finished off a rebound in the 53rd minute.

With the game in hand, Seren subbed off most of his starters with about 20 minutes to play. Junior Jack Jolly came closest to earning a consolation goal for Gaffney in the 78th minute, but he was unable to trouble substitute goalkeeper Stanley Marshall.

“We’ve got to keep focusing on the things we can control,” Seren said. “We’ll continue to work hard in the final third.”

Fort Mill’s Ryan Seitz looks to keep posession for the Jackets as he spits two Gaffney defenders.