NEW PORT RICHEY — Since falling to Gulf 4-3 a month ago, Mitchell circled its rematch with the Buccaneers on the schedule.
The Mustangs pointed to the game as an opportunity to avenge their only loss of the season.
So with the score tied at 1 late in the rematch Wednesday, Mitchell coach Karl Kukec decided a tie wasn’t good enough to satisfy his players. He wanted to play for the win, so he moved senior captain Nicole Misener from defender to forward to give the Mustangs a third attacker.
The tactical switch eventually broke the deadlock and propelled the Mustangs to a 2-1 victory on the Buccaneers’ home turf.
With less than two minutes to go, Misener broke free down the right wing and fell to the ground inside the box after a challenge from a retreating defender.
A call that could have gone either way went in favor of the Mustangs. Misener was awarded a penalty kick, and she sent her reward past Gulf goalkeeper Melissa Morlan.
“I didn’t want to know the consequences if I missed it,” Misener said. “I knew I wasn’t going to miss it, even if she got a tip on it. … Once I saw her tip it, I closed my eyes and then I heard everyone screaming.”
Whether or not the penalty call was the correct one, the Mustangs and Buccaneers — the premier teams on the North Suncoast — played one of the most competitive games of the season.
Gulf (13-1) grabbed the game’s first goal in the 22nd minute against the run of play. Haley Foster trapped a loose ball on the edge of the box and lobbed a high-arcing shot that caught the Mustangs’ defense flat-footed.
Mitchell (14-1) equalized just before the second-half water break. Freshman midfielder Danielle Gottwick pounced on a rebound near the edge of the box with Morlan out of goal and sent her shot into the open net.
That’s when Kukec decided to bring Misener up top.
“I did not want to tie the game. … Either way, we lose it or we win it right now,” Kukec said. “… At that point, we put three (forwards) up, that put more pressure on their defense, which makes a difference.”
Even with the three forwards creating scoring chances the game seemed destined to end in a draw, until Misener flashed down the right side and barreled toward goal with the ball at her foot and a full head of steam.
With one swing of her leg, Misener erased a month’s worth of frustration for the Mustangs.
“This is the biggest game of our season,” she said. “… Ever since we played them last, it’s been our challenge to beat them.”