By Pedro Velazco
— There’s no easy way to lose a shootout. And the feeling is even worse in a sectional game.
Eastern’s boys soccer squad lost to Eastbrook a 6-5 in a shootout Monday night after a 2-2 tie in the opening round of the Class A Oak Hill Sectional.
“That’s my group of seniors I’ve coached since I started four years ago,” Eastern coach John VanMatre said. “We built up to this moment. Last year, when we had a disappointing loss over here, we went back and said we got up on that hump last year, we just didn’t get over the hump. This year we got over the hump. During the season, we played a lot better, we won a bunch of games, proved what we could do. This game, we had lots of opportunities to finish the game, to win it, and things didn’t bounce our way.
“It’s just a hard one to swallow.”
Eastern finishes the season 11-5. The Comets will surely rue a host of chances that got away.
The Comets tied the game at 2-2 in the 77th minute when Derek Conwell scored in the goal mouth on a long throw by Andrew Kerner. Moments later, Kerner was put in the clear right of the goal by Conwell but cranked a shot just over from deep inside the penalty area.
Then in the first overtime period, Grant Cole had a chance to score the winner when a Kerner cross found him dead center inside the box. Cole controlled and fired from point-blank range but Eastbrook goalie Donovan Elliott produced the biggest save of the night up to that point with a fingertip reaction stop.
A few minutes later, Elliott came up big again in the penalty shootout. Elliott got his fingertips on Cole’s shot, pushing it to the crossbar and over. Eastbrook’s Lucas Coyle then stepped up to the penalty spot and put in the winner.
“There were several of those near misses,” VanMatre said. “When Grant was beating himself up at the end for the PK, I just told him, ‘Grant, there were lots of chances to win that game and it’s not all on you.”
Eastbrook (7-5-3) advances to play Oak Hill on Wednesday.
“I hate winning a game that’s played that well, [then it] has to end that way,” Eastbrook coach Adam Hallis said. “I thought we did a good job of getting our goals the second half. Eastern did a good job of pressing and scoring on the throw in. When the guys leave it all on the field and you have to decide it that way — I wish there was a better way of doing it.”
Eastern goalie Delon Tuggle finished with five saves.
Eastern struck first with a goal in the 13th minute when a Conwell cross from the left side was on the money for Kerner to one-time home and finish a good three-man move on the counter. The Panthers equalized in the 53rd minute on a counterattack, then went ahead 2-1 in the 73rd minute before the Comets’ late equalizer.
The Comets’ couldn’t find their shooting touch after closing the season with a pair of lopsided victories over Tipton and sectional rival Blackford.
“Our last two games ... we had two 9-0 games,” VanMatre said. “Their coach, before the game, he asked me, ‘What happened there?’ Because they just played [Blackford] really tough. I said, ‘You know, we started hitting all the shots we’ve been missing all year.’ I thought [Monday] was going to be a continuation of that, but I think the little extra pressure of playing a sectional game might have just, that little bit extra, tightened them up to where they weren’t quite relaxed enough to finish their shots.”