In the postseason, records leading-up to the tournament are thrown aside and the team that can muster the longest winning streak is rewarded.
For years, the Trinity Lutheran boys soccer team bought into that message from coach Brandan Tabeling — and that mentality has lifted them to the Jac-Cen-Del Sectional Championship.
Following 94 minutes of scoreless action, the Cougars (3-9-1) edged the host school 4-3 in a penalty shootout to punch a ticket to the title fight with Oldenburg Academy on Saturday.
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Tied at 2-2 with goals from Kohei Nagino and Andrew Emily, Trinity Lutheran keeper Jacob Keith held firm in the center of the net to come up with the key save for the Cougars.
“It was absolutely huge,” Tabeling said of the stop. “We graduated a three-year starter (at goalie, Luke Onken) and Jacob stepped-in brand new. We’ve been working with him all year, and today he showed how much he has learned. All match he was absolutely critical for us.”
AJ Goecker converted his shot before Noah Criswell sealed the game for the Cougars.
“Nobody knows the pressure of a PK shootout until it’s a live situation,” Tabeling said. “You have to walk up to that line and stay cool, calm and collected”
While both teams managed a handful of scoring opportunities in the opening half, neither team would find the back of the net in the first 40 minutes.
Neither team got a shot off on goal until Goecker hit a cross that bounced in and out of Eagles keeper Adrian Peetz’s hands at 33:40.
Emily took a corner at 28:05, which found the head of Kohei Nagino but the attempt went just wide.
Keith picked-off a 50 yards free kick at 26:23 and won a one-on-one breakaway with a diving save at the 15:38-mark.
Trinity’s best chance to take the lead happened at 10:41 when Trent Shoemaker headed a five-yards cross from Skyler Stahl in front of the goal, but the shot just went wide.
Each side pushed the counterattack in the final minutes of regulation, but the dam wouldn’t break.
Jac-Cen-Del’s Trent Linville crushed a ball into the box at 35:10, but Trinity’s Kegan Prentice came up with the big clear.
Nagino’s rocketed a shot across his body at 24:20 from 20 yards on the right side of the field, but the shot just missed the far post.
With under a minute to play, Emily hit a set piece from 30 yards that nearly found the top right corner of the net.
In overtime, the Cougars had three free kicks from 40-45 yards, but all the shots sailed over the goal.
Trinity outshot Jac-Cen-Del 15-7 and Keith finished with seven saves in goal.
“We graduated seven guys last year so half of our team was wiped-out from the beginning,” Tabeling said. “We tell them that we don’t care what the win-losses are after 15 games. This is what we care about right here, nothing matches up to the excitement of what happened (Wednesday). It was great to see them battle and come out with the win.”