LAND O'LAKES — Wharton coach Scott Ware's voice cracked and his eyes reddened, classic symptoms of a competitor whose heart has just been broken in three places.
On a frigid night at Land O'Lakes (22-2-2), Ware bore a trio of emotional fractures: the anguish of watching his team's quest for a second straight state title end in double overtime, the sadness of bidding farewell to nine seniors, and the grief of seeing a career game by his sophomore keeper end in such hard-luck fashion. The Wildcats' aspirations of a repeat ended just over three minutes into Thursday's second overtime, when Gators junior Frankie Villar's shot from 30 yards deflected off the hands of keeper Alex Stickley and into the net, lifting the hosts 2-1.
Stickley, in fact, was slightly out of position for the shot only because of his leaping save of Tyler Horvath's shot seconds before.
"It's unfortunate," Ware said. "A second before (Stickley) had probably the best save of the match on both teams to keep us in the ball game."
Despite being outshot 13-5, Wharton (15-8-3) forced two extra sessions mainly because of Stickley, a converted field player who honored Ware's request to play keeper because of a need at the spot. Until Villar's winner, his only lapse had been a goal in the 24th minute by Gators senior Felix Soto off a corner kick. That was preceded by Wharton senior Jacob Cohen's unassisted goal. Stickley finished with nine saves.
"I admire that kid," Ware said, "coming in and playing all season and doing us a favor and doing it well."