BY DAVE LINK
MURFREESBORO – It was a penalty-kick heartbreaker Friday afternoon for the Greeneville boys’ soccer team.
The Greene Devils lost to Valor College Prep of Nashville 4-3 in a PK shootout in the Class AA state championship match at Siegel Soccer Complex.
Greenville (20-1-5) and Valor Prep (17-4-3) played to a scoreless tie after 100 minutes of regulation and overtime play, forcing the PK shootout.
“It’s a tough way to go out when you have so many seniors,” said Greeneville coach Jerry Graham. “They’re a state-championship caliber team. They’ve all got hearts of champions, and to go out like that, it’s a tough way to lose a state championship. To go down in (PKs), it’s no one player’s fault, but when you go to pins, it sure makes it feel like it does. I hope our players walk away knowing that we win or lose as a team.”
Greeneville, which has 11 seniors, played its first PK shootout of the season Friday.
“We’ve obviously practiced it, especially later in the season,” Graham said. “We worked on not just taking them but defending them, and we’ve really done a good job. And we did a good job here. It’s just one of those things. It’s a big stage. Emotions are high, and it’s tough.”
Senior Mitchell York was the goalkeeper for Valor Prep, and junior Tanner Myers was the keeper for Greenville.
Both teams scored in the first three rounds of the PK shootout with Greeneville getting scores by Drew Shelton, Austin Beets, and Brady Quillen.
Valor Prep’s Japheth Padilla missed his shot wide left in the fourth round, and York blocked David Fisher’s shot, keeping the shootout score tied at 3-all.
Jad Rahme gave the Wildcats a 4-3 lead in the fifth round.
York then blocked a shot by Josue Castillo, ending the game and winning the state championship.
“I saved the previous shot (by Fisher) to my left,” York said. “(Castillo) put the ball down. He didn’t look up, and I was like, ‘He’s going to my right,” and I saved the shot.”
Valor Prep won its state quarterfinal against East Hamilton on PKs 4-3.
“I backed my guys,” York said. “I knew that if it came to PKs today, it was in my hands.”
York finished with six saves and Myers with two saves.
Greeneville had 10 shots to Valor Prep’s eight.
Valor Prep had eight corner kicks to Greeneville’s one.
“I don’t know what the stat line was,” Graham said. “It really doesn’t matter, but we felt like we outperformed them, at least in the second half. We didn’t have a great first half and we really, truly felt like we were going to be able to take care of business in the second half with the opportunities we were getting. Even when it went to extra time, we felt like we were going to be able to end it then. We were pretty confident, and then couldn’t hit the back of the net.”
Greeneville had two shots in the first half to Valor Prep’s three.
The Greene Devils had five shots in the two 10-minute overtimes, and the Wildcats had one shot in the overtimes.
“I think it took us a while to get underneath our feet and get the nerves underneath because we kept sending long balls, and that’s just not our game,” Graham said. “That’s not how we’ve played all year. That’s what we talked about at halftime. We came out and started finding and feeding, and our movement off the ball was a lot better. We did a lot of things better in the second half and the two overtimes and we just couldn’t capitalize.”
Graham said a PK shootout becomes a different game than regulation play.
“It just comes down to who can place it in the back of the net,” he said. “And can you read the kicker, can you read the goalkeeper, and how well you’ve worked on that? It also comes down to nerves and high school kids. It’s tough, and again, I hope our kids walk away from this knowing that we lost as a team. It’s a shame because we felt like, and I’m sure a lot of people do, but we felt like we’re the best team down here.”
Valor Prep won its first state title in three appearances. The Wildcats beat Greeneville 1-0 in last year’s state semifinals before losing to Page in the final, 1-0.
“Different teams, different years have different identities, and we had a different identity this year,” Graham said. “We possess much more. There’s lots of things that we’re better at than that team (in 2022). We didn’t come in with anything as far as to recreate or whatever what we didn’t do last year. We’re just going to be who we are this year.”
Greeneville was denied of its first state championship since winning three straight from 2017-19.
“I’m super proud of the effort by the backline to turn back attack after attack after attack,” Graham said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our entire team, the way they played this year, their heart. They left everything on the field. That’s all we ask of them.”.