WAVERLY — Truth be told, penalty kicks CAN be all fun and games.
That is, until, one experiences what Eric Green and the Wheelersburg Pirates went through on Thursday night.
That’s because, after the very last of 10 kicks in the Pirates’ Division III Southeast District boys soccer championship match against the Lynchburg-Clay Mustangs, Green lay face down for a few minutes — inside the net and flat on the FieldTurf surface of Waverly’s Raidiger Field.
Lynchburg-Clay freshman and left-footed Landon West went high and near the top of the net against Green, converting the final of five penalty-kick attempts — and sinking the Pirates 3-2 in a dramatic and heart-stopping shootout.
Yes indeed, and unfortunately for Wheelersburg, PKs are all great — until you are on the losing end of them.
The Pirates, in their five attempts, missed twice and were stopped once — as West went to his left and high and hit the walk-off game-winner to send the Mustangs into the regional tournament.
“If you are on the wrong end of them (penalty kicks), this is the feeling,” said Wheelersburg coach Jon Estep. “It’s something once tournament time starts that we work on. I’m never going to second-guess who I put out there (to attempt penalty kicks). We have belief in all five guys that we send up to take them. You just want to be on the other side of that.”
The Mustangs moved to 13-4-2, and will face South Webster on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in the regional semifinals.
It is also their first-ever boys soccer district championship.
Wheelersburg, which swept South Webster in the regular season en route to winning the outright Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship, was primed for a potential third meeting with the Jeeps — but the Mustangs made sure it didn’t happen.
The tilt stood tied 2-2 after regulation, and into the first and through the second sudden-death 15-minute overtime periods.
That meant the pressure-packed penalty-kick situation — combined with a district championship at stake.
Wheelersburg’s Logan Davis and Lynchburg-Clay’s Hunter Balon both made the first kicks, beating goalkeepers Gavin Stroop of the Mustangs and Green of the Pirates to their right sides.
Stroop then saved the attempt of Wheelersburg’s Brady Warren, making a nice diving hand stop, and the Mustangs moved in front 2-1 when Blake Marcelino calmly connected and beat Green to the upper left.
The Pirates then had a golden opportunity to tie it back up, as leading goal-scorer and standout striker Aaron Jolly — the SOC II Player of the Year — stepped up.
Jolly had already scored the Pirates’ pair of regulation goals, including the game-tying penalty kick with only 25 minutes remaining, but his shootout attempt sailed straight high over the net and well over Stroop’s head.
However, Green got one back for Wheelersburg, making a clutch and calculated save on the Mustangs’ Coalt Tatman.
Wheelersburg’s Will Darling then delivered the tying goal at 2-2, by beating Stroop to his left — and giving the Pirates new life.
Harrison Burge then missed for the Mustangs wide right, but Wheelersburg sophomore Chris Shiepis unfortunately followed suit, setting up the final attempt by the left-footed freshman West.
West — the Lynchburg-Clay coach’s son — went at the ball with precision footwork and, about as effortless and easy-does-it given the pressure of the situation, got the game-winning kick past Green.
Wheelersburg’s boys were attempting to duplicate what the Lady Pirates had done only nine days earlier — win a tournament bout in a shootout.
Unfortunately, as Estep said, it wasn’t meant to be.
“You find out who the pressure gets to and who it doesn’t get to. Their goalkeeper made a decent save on Brady’s (Warren) shot that we played right down the middle. Aaron (Jolly) missed right over the top and (Chris) Shiepis sent his wide right. It’s unfortunate, because our guys work extremely hard to get to the point where we are at,” said the coach. “It just wasn’t our night for us on those kicks.”
The Pirates trailed 2-1 for a span of 25 minutes and nine seconds — until Jolly got the tying goal with 25 minutes to play.
Both clubs had opportunities all throughout regulation and the overtimes, including Darling with a minute and 20 seconds left in the first extra session.
Darling drilled a rocket right at the senior Stroop, who made the sharp standing save and looked directly at Darling when he did.
In the second overtime, Green made a pair of nice saves within two-and-a-half minutes of each other, including the second with 5:45 remaining on a hard liner by Marcelino.
“Both teams had many chances before we got to penalty kicks,” said Estep. “We weren’t able to capitalize just like they weren’t able to capitalize. Defensively, in the second half and through the overtimes, I thought we played really well. We limited their opportunities, but we just weren’t able to take advantage of some of the runs we thought we had open. We just couldn’t get a foot on it tonight. We mishit balls, didn’t hit balls high enough, or couldn’t get it over their center backs. A foot here or a foot there can determine the outcome. And it did for us.”
Both squads did score on three of those early opportunities, as the three first-half goals were within seven-and-a-half minutes of each other.
Jolly got an assisted marker by Darling at the 17:40 juncture, but the Mustangs immediately responded with the equalizer by Triston West with 14:16 showing.
West blasted the ball from about 30 yards out, as the long shot got by Green to his lower left.
Lynchburg-Clay then needed just four minutes and seven seconds to elapse before taking the lead, as Connor Tyree tallied in front of the net off a Marcelino assist.
Estep said it was important for the Pirates to strike first, but then they quickly lost the momentum with the Mustangs’ two markers.
“One of the things we talked about was getting out to an early lead. By doing that, I thought our guys would be able to settle in. But I don’t know if we got tired in the midfield or if we got too defensive-minded with our midfielders getting caught on our fullbacks. We were allowing them a lot of space in the middle of the field,” he said. “Their first goal, we blocked the vision of our goalkeeper. Eric (Green) said he couldn’t see it with so much congestion in front of him. We lost focus and containment in that middle for about the last 20 minutes of the first half, and they capitalized on it.”
But Jolly — battling for possession and being fouled inside the goalbox — got the PK for the 2-2 tie, as Estep was proud of how he and the Pirates fought back from trailing 2-1.
The match indeed turned quite physical, and even chippy, the longer the night wore on.
“Aaron (Jolly) works hard. He was giving up a lot of size to their center fullbacks, and he was getting beat to death all night long. He didn’t back down from guys bigger than he was out there,” said Estep. “They knocked him down at the top of the box and allowed him to take that PK. He was fighting and battling all night long.”
And, the Pirates battled all night long — all the way through the last PK.
Wheelersburg, with five seniors, wrapped up another stellar season at 17-2-0 — losing only to Minford for its only other defeat.
Thursday night’s match marked the final for Darling, Warren, Luke Pauley, Mason Nolan and Josh Russell.
It was another excellent season of Wheelersburg soccer, and one which should not be diminished by a single solitary set of gut-wrenching and heart-breaking penalty kicks.
“Their work, effort and commitment to this team over the four years and this past summer gave them a senior season to look forward to. They knew it was their year,” said Estep. “A lot of the success of this season is owed to our senior leadership. Those guys have brought this team together so well. The camaraderie and love this group has for each other, it’s like a brotherhood for them. They are going to take a lot of memories away from this year.”
* * *
Lynchburg-Clay 2 0 0 0 (3) — (3)
Wheelersburg 1 1 0 0 (2) — (2)
W — Aaron Jolly (Will Darling assist), 17:40, 1st (1-0 W)
L-C — Triston West (unassisted), 14:16, 1st (1-1 tie)
L-C — Connor Tyree (Blake Marcelino assist), 10:09, 1st (2-1 L-C)
W — Aaron Jolly (penalty kick), 25:00, 2nd (2-2 tie)
W — Logan Davis (penalty kick), SO (1-0 W)
L-C — Hunter Balon (penalty kick), SO (1-1 tie)
L-C — Blake Marcelino (penalty kick), SO (2-1 L-C)
W — Will Darling (penalty kick), SO (2-2 W)
L-C — Landon West (penalty kick), SO (3-2 L-C)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved