By Jerry Holsworth - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Handley and Sherando's Northwestern District boys soccer tournament championship game had just about everything, including the unlikeliest of heroes. Two regulation halves, two overtimes, two sudden death overtimes, and 14 penalty kicks before a winner was decided.
With both teams tied 4-4 during the first round of penalty kicks, they entered into a sudden death penalty kick death shootout. After Sherando's Michael O'Connell and Handley's Andrew Marut made their opening kicks, Sean Lewis stepped up for Sherando's second shot.
Lewis launched a blistering shot, but Handley goalkeeper Stefano Frantellizzi made a diving save to deny the Warriors the score. It was the second game-winning save the Judges sophomore had made during the penalty phase. Frantellizzi had made two spectacular saves in the opening round to keep Handley in the contest.
"That was really intense," Frantellizzi said. "I knew that I had to make those saves or we were done, and it turned out well."
After Frantellizzi's save of Lewis' sudden death penalty kick, Handley sent out Mac O'Brien with the game and the championship on the line. The strange thing about that was that it was the first time the Judges junior had been on the field.
"I really never believed that I would be in a situation like that," O'Brien said. "It was the first time that I was on the field, and my first and only kick of the day."
O'Brien, who had been held out of games and practices with a strained quad for a week was the most unlikely of choices. He responded by smashing his penalty kick to the right post for the game-winner.
"I have to give credit where credit is due," Handley coach Cosmo Balio said. "Putting Mac in for that penalty kick was Graham Sharples' idea. He's like a coach on the field for us, and he felt like Mac was the right choice so we put him in."
O'Brien and Frantellizzi's heroics concluded a titanic struggle that was scoreless after 100 grueling minutes by both teams. For the Warriors, it was the absolute worst way to lose the game.
"That's the first time I've been involved with a game that was decided on penalty kicks," Santmier said. "I tried to keep as cool as possible by taking a lot of deep breathes. I did the best that I could, but that has to be the worst way to lose a game."
His coach agreed.
"There was a lot of heart and a lot of desire out there by both teams," Sherando coach Pat Anderson said. "That's the worst way you can loss a game though. But I guess somebody had to win."
Although the game ended tied 0-0, it was anything but an even contest. Handley dominated play for almost the entire game, but the Warrior defense refused to break.
The Judges outshot Sherando, 9-1, in the first half and 14-3 during regulation play. The difference in the overtime periods were almost as lopsided with Handley outshooting the Warriors, 4-2.
"I really thought that we dominated play throughout," Balio said. "But they have such a well organized defense that it was almost impossible to penetrate it. You really have to give them credit for the way they play defense."
Handley had several opportunities but failed to connect on any of them. Shots by Mark Rosario and Marut came within inches of giving the Judges the lead in the first half, and with less than two minutes to play in the half Handley midfielder Deni Deyanov missed a penalty kick.
"It was a very intense game," Handley forward Eduardo Santiago said. "They gave it their all, and so did we. We kept putting pressure on them the whole game. We really felt that we were going to win from the beginning. Even when it went to penalty kicks, we were confident that we would come out on top in the end."
The Judges had at least as many chances in the second half, and three quality shots in overtime that failed to get in the Sherando net.
Ironically, despite Handley's dominance on offense, it was the Warriors who in the last two minutes of the second sudden death overtime had two shots that came within inches of pulling off the upset.