TAMPA — After being outplayed in regulation and held to a 0-0 finish Tuesday night, Gaither coach Eric Sims walked up to his team and asked who was willing to step up and take penalty kicks.
Six players stepped forward. Sims narrowed it to five. And together with goalkeeper John Nardozzi they led the Cowboys (11-0-1) to a too-close-for-comfort victory, beating Berkeley Prep (9-2-2) 4-1 on penalty kicks, preserving their undefeated record and moving into the semifinals of the 17th annual High School Soccer Invitational at the Shimberg Sports Complex.
“For sure this wasn’t our best game,” Sims said. “We have to realize that we’re going to get the other team’s best every night as long as we have a record like we have.
“Everyone wants to give us our first loss. I think (Berkeley Prep) played very well. I was very impressed with their team, take nothing away from them. They probably had the better chances and had the chance to win, but we stayed solid on defense.”
Berkeley Prep got off on the wrong foot in the penalty kick shootout, with senior Kurt Akman pulling his effort high and wide of the goal. Gaither’s Zachary Wheeler, Jordan See, Steffan Siebel-cortopassi and Charles Delmar went 4-for-4, and Nardozzi added a diving save.
But for the Buccaneers, it was a game of missed opportunities. Berkeley Prep outshot Gaither 14-7 and had three or four good chances to grab the winner. The best came near the end of the first half when junior forward Paul Barrett’s shot on an open goal was cleared off the line by a defender, with heavy shouts of handball coming from the Buccaneers.