By Tommy Keeler Jr.
SALEM --Stonewall Jackson had plenty of reasons to feel confident when its Group A state semifinal match with Radford went to penalty kicks. The Generals boast a strong offense and had plenty of scorers to send out onto the field. They also had Ryan Zerkel in goal to stop the Highlanders.
"[Zerkel] stepped up so big in PK's," Stonewall Jackson senior David Dodson said. "He was incredible. He's an incredible keeper."
Zerkel was able to make saves on three of the penalty kicks to send the Generals into the state final for only the second time in school history.
The last of his saves was the biggest. After Stonewall Jackson's Roberto Cardoso scored to make it 6-5 in penalty kicks, Radford's Juan Perez had to put the ball past Zerkel to keep the match going. Zerkel was able to get his fingertips on the ball and knock it to the post for the game-winning save.
"That was one of the greatest feelings of my life," Zerkel said. "The only thing I remember is going down and seeing it hit the post. The whistle blew and the game was done and I was like 'oh my goodness.'"
Zerkel also stopped two shots during the first five penalty kicks, including a nice save against Radford's Jacob Mundy.
There was plenty of pressure on everyone involved in the penalty kicks, but certainly it was the goalkeepers who had the most pressure on them.
Stonewall Jackson coach Caleb Golladay said he had plenty of confidence that Zerkel would get the job done in penalty kicks.
"Coming into penalty kicks, I said this is what you've worked for," Golladay said. "We've practiced penalty kicks in practice and I said this is the game that you're looking for right here. I said it's on your shoulders right now. I said you just got to go finish it."
Zerkel said it helped him a lot that they work on penalty kicks in practice.
"That helps so much just practicing it in practice, learning run-ups and where people put them," Zerkel said.
Not only was Zerkel's play throughout the entire match stellar, but so was the entire Generals' defense.
Dodson said the Generals wouldn't be in the finals without the play of the entire defense.
"Our defense played absolutely amazing today," Dodson said. "Defense wins championships. Our defense played unbelievable today."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org