By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STEPHENS CITY -- Last-minute goals in the first half are usually back-breakers, and Sherando found out the hard way on Wednesday night.
Millbrook scored in the final minute of the first half and pulled out a 2-1 victory over the Warriors in Northwestern District boys soccer action.
"It just took the steam out of us," Sherando coach Pat Anderson said of the Millbrook goal. "We played bad in the first half, but we were still 0-0. ...We made some adjustments at halftime. With 30 seconds left that just kills you."
Neither team could generate any real offense in the first half. In the final 30 seconds, Millbrook's Esteban Melivilu's shot from about 30 yards out sailed right over Sherando keeper Kevin Riley's head and right under the crossbar for a 1-0 lead.
"Santi [Santiago Sanchez] passed it to me and I just quickly turned and shot it," Melivilu said. "At first I thought it was going to hit the crossbar, I was like 'No,' but then it dipped in so what happens, happens. It was a good goal, I think.
"That raised the bar for everyone. That got everybody pumped up and hyped."
The Warriors (8-3, 5-2 Northwestern) were not happy with how they played in the first half, and falling behind by a goal made it even worse.
"We were slow out of the gate," Sherando junior Andrew Wade said. "We pulled it together in the second half. I thought we definitely played better in the second, but it's got to be there for the whole 80 minutes."
The Pioneers (11-3, 6-1 Northwestern) took a 2-0 lead just three minutes into the second half. Millbrook's Jonathan Richards scored on a penalty kick to give the Pioneers some cushion.
"Again that's a game changer, because once we were down 2-0 then we had to change how we wanted to play," Anderson said. "[Millbrook] played well. They did a good job."
A handball in the goalie box gave Sherando a penalty kick with 17 minutes left in the game. Wade delivered with a shot past Millbrook keeper Chris Kozlowski to cut the lead to 2-1.
"I've hit a lot of penalty kicks in my life -- I've missed some. It's a lot of pressure, especially when we're down and we needed that goal," Wade said. "It's definitely nerve-wracking, but I think I've grown to that point as a player where I can take that without feeling too nervous."
The defense has been a strong point for Millbrook all season, and coach Keith Kilmer said it showed again against the Warriors.
"What are you supposed to say? We've given up 13 goals all season," Kilmer said of his defense. "Those nine shutouts, yeah they get credited to the keeper, but to me they're a complete credit to my defense. They have been as stout as you can ask."
It was the first Millbrook win over Sherando in two years. The Warriors beat the Pioneers 2-1 on April 24. More importantly, the win puts the Pioneers within a win of clinching the Northwestern District title. The Pioneers finish their regular season Friday against James Wood.
"We're one win away from doing something we've never done before at Millbrook," Kilmer said. "I'm pretty excited. We've got to go get James Wood on Senior Night on Friday.
"We're in the driver's seat, but we've got one to go. You can't look past anyone."
The Warriors outshot the Pioneers 8-7, and Anderson said it his team had only played a game-and-a-half since the April 24 win over Millbrook.
"It's a good learning experience for us, because this taste -- we don't want to go through this next week in the conference tournament," Anderson said. "That's what we're trying to gear for. It will be a good wake-up call for us, hopefully."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org