TAMPA — The first time Mitchell played district rival Freedom, the Mustangs had no trouble asserting their dominance, winning by six goals. But with more on the line in Wednesday’s district semifinal rematch, the Patriots refused to roll over.
In a win-or-go-home game, Mitchell took a one-goal lead into the break, but Freedom tied it 13 minutes into the second half. For more than 20 minutes, the familiar foes battled, the score mercilessly knotted.
"We were feeling (the pressure), but we have a great team," said Mitchell senior Jason Piurowski, who scored the first goal of the game in the 20th minute. "We always pull it out. We had faith in each other."
But really, all he needed was to find faith in his own leg.
With less then 4½ minutes to play, Piurowski scored on a free kick, then senior Ben Wiik added one more for good measure two minutes later as Mitchell escaped with a 3-1 victory against the Patriots. The Mustangs face Sickles in Friday’s Class 4A-8 final.
Before Piurowski’s big kick, the game appeared destined for overtime, a situation Mitchell had yet to find itself this season.
The Mustangs, though, weren’t ready to concede.
In the 75th minute of the tie score, a Freedom player was given a blue card — received when the same player gets a second yellow, forcing him out of play for the rest of the game — setting up a free kick for Mitchell just outside the box.
As Piurowski lined up to take it, his teammates purposefully distracted the goalie for Freedom (6-10-1), and Piurowski’s kick slipped past him for the go-ahead goal. Afterward, Mitchell appeared to be back in familiar form, relentlessly attacking in the final minutes before Wiik got his insurance goal.
For coach Oscar Ubillus, his team’s close call was just what they needed to get their mind right as a playoff run nears.
"As much as you say it, sometimes they come out cocky and that it’s a foregone conclusion. But it’s not," he said. "Hopefully it’s a good thing we had to fight for this one, so we can come out a little differently on Friday."
The Mustangs (18-5-3) weren’t the only team wishing to have certain moments back Wednesday.
In the second semifinal of the night between Sickles and Hillsborough, emotions ran high and fouls on both sides led to four penalty kicks. The Terriers capitalized on two penalty kicks of their own, but once the Gryphons found their stride, they couldn’t be stopped, and Sickles won 6-4.
Sickles (10-2-2), which beat Hillsborough 4-0 earlier in the season, struck first on a goal from Robby Nelson. The Terriers (5-6-3) got it back six minutes later on the first penalty kick of the game; Amine Benkirane missed the shot when the Sickles goalie deflected it, but Benkirane chased the ball down and shot it again, scoring to tie the match.
The teams traded goals again as the first half wore on, but Sickles scored twice in a two-minute span to take a 4-2 lead into halftime.
When play resumed, Sickles extended its lead when Andy Gonzalez scored on the second penalty kick of the game. Hillsborough would have two more penalty kicks in the final 10 minutes — scoring on both — , but it wasn’t enough.
"It wasn’t as clean as it should have been, from a coaching standpoint. But we got the job done," Sickles coach Carl May said. "It’s always about winning the scoreboard."