Region girls soccer: Mitchell 1, Melbourne 0 (PKs)
NEW PORT RICHEY — Through regulation and two sudden-death overtime sessions Friday, Mitchell's pursuit of an advantage proved to be as frustrating as this game had ever been.
For the past three seasons, the Class 4A region final was where the Mustangs' season had been extinguished. Each campaign ended here in heartbreak: a shutout, a one-goal defeat, a grueling loss in penalty kicks.
It was enough to leave any team dejected, much less a squad as youthful as Mitchell's with a combined 13 freshmen and sophomores.
But on its home turf against Melbourne, Mitchell was determined to finally break the drought. And it did, scoring three times in penalty kicks to advance with a dramatic 1-0 victory.
"I just tried to keep positive, said sophomore netminder Pilar Eguino, who stopped 13 shots and two in PKs.
"I thought of my team and to do this for them, especially the seniors who won't be able to do it next year. I was nervous, but it was something I had to do as a goalkeeper."
Mitchell (21-2) opened with aggression and controlled the pace for much of the initial 40 minutes against an opponent that was forced to make a 168-mile trek from the east coast on a charter bus.
The only problem was that nothing the Mustangs fired at Melbourne (21-2) keeper Kendell Mindnich stuck. Three times a Mitchell shot hit the cross bar. Another banged off the left post.
Hands went to heads in vexation. Fingernails were gnawed. All signs seemed pointed to yet another deflating conclusion.
"In the first half, I think we dominated," Mitchell coach Karl Kukec said. "But then Melbourne came back and just kept it even and we just couldn't get the ball into the goal."
Enter Gabrielle Zeigler.
As the match went to PKs, the sophomore found herself second in line to shoot. With her teammates standing several yards away, Mitchell's season rested on her foot after Sabrina Wagner's first attempt was turned away with a diving stop.
"I knew when Sabrina missed hers, it was okay," Zeigler said. "That's why we have five girls (to shoot). It's all a team effort."
Zeigler stepped up and fired one toward the top of the net as Mindnich misread it and dove again to her left along the ground.
The ball went in.
Two more times, the Mustangs connected. Two more times, Eguino made a save. Celebration ensued. A mob of white jerseys piled onto the field with shouts and tears of joy. An unsuspecting Kukec even received an ice-water bath — one he happily accepted and won't soon forget.
"It's amazing," Eguino said, beaming from ear to ear.
The lingering frustration is no more. Next stop: the state final four.