By Chris Whitfield
CHATSWORTH — With a strong, stacked defense and a junior goalkeeper with a reputation that continues to grow, several times this high school soccer season it has seemed as if North Murray’s boys team was playing for the tie rather than the win during regulation play and overtime.
That would seem to have been a safe strategy considering North Murray’s perfect record over the past two years when the game was decided by a penalty-kick shootout.
So when the Mountaineers and visiting East Hall went scoreless through regulation and overtime in their Class 3A second-round state tournament match Wednesday night, confidence had to be running high for North Murray.
It all came crashing down with one misfire.
East Hall (12-3-1) escaped to advance to the state quarterfinals when Mountaineers senior Antonio Maldonaldo’s penalty kick stayed low and went wide right of the net, stunning the North Murray fans and giving the Vikings an 8-7 edge in the decisive shootout.
“That hurt,” North Murray coach Matt Chambers said. “That really is our specialty, and to see that happen, I am kind of shocked.”
The Mountaineers, who won their second straight region title this year and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs for the third straight year, finished the season 15-4. East Hall advances to the quarterfinals after winning its first two games of the tournament on the road. The No. 3 seed from Region 8, the Vikings upset Blessed Trinity — ranked fourth in the eurosportscoreboard.com Class 3A poll at the time — in the first round.
Despite the outcome, neither Chambers nor East Hall coach Chris Horton were shocked that the game was decided from the penalty line.
“North Murray has a really strong defense and their keeper (Manuel Gonzales) is fantastic, so we knew we would have few real good scoring opportunities,” Horton said. “Our defense played very well and did a good job of limiting the damage when they were able to flip the field on us.”
The game was played at different paces by the two teams. North Murray’s offense was built on exploiting a mistake, usually by sending the ball down the field to allow speedy Guillermo Cruz an opportunity to get past a defender and take on a goalie one-on-one. East Hall was much more relaxed and relied on its perimeter passing before trying to find gaps and converge in the middle.
Either way, the opposing defenses had most of the answers as the offenses were left scratching their heads.
East Hall goalie Emmanuel Andrade matched Gonzales with several key saves in the second half and had just one dangerous play but beat Cruz to a loose ball. The two players appeared to kick the ball at the same time and it rocketed straight upward before East Hall took control.
“They kept the pressure on us, but we had our chances ... a lot of chances,” Chambers said. “We didn’t get a couple of goals that we usually might have gotten, and their keeper made a few great saves.”
When the game finally went to penalty kicks, North Murray appeared to have gotten the break it was looking for when Gonzales leaped out to block the shot of Leo Toledo, but the official ruled Gonzales had left the goal line. Toledo was given another chance and finished.
After going through the designated five participants during a penalty kick tiebreaker, the teams moved to sudden death. Neither team’s keeper saved a penalty kick.
North Murray will lose eight players to graduation.
“Our seniors have set the bar pretty high here,” Chambers said. “We are disappointed now, but overall we won back-to-back region titles and I am very proud of my boys.”