EAST MARLBOROUGH >> In the second of two marathon sessions of high school soccer on Tuesday evening at Unionville, the host Indians advanced in round one of the boys District 1 tournament with a razor-thin 1-0 triumph over 19th-seeded Boyertown that ended on penalty kicks. An earlier first round girls clash also ended on PKs.
Following a scoreless 80 minutes of regulation plus two 15-minute overtimes, Unionville won it 3-0 on penalty kicks, and did so with its third-string keeper in goal, freshman Alex Dolce. Regular starter, Matt Nitz, suffered a pregame injury and his backup, Garrett Pepper, exited with an injury in the second half.
“But Alex is a good goalie and he stepped up big for us,” said Unionville head coach Rich Garber. “Our mentality of the next guy up is kind of what we’ve been doing all season.”
Seeded 14th, the Indians (12-5-2 overall) advance to Thursday’s second round matchup with No. 3 Council Rock North. Boyertown’s season ends with a 13-8 mark.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Boyertown head coach Scott Didyoung. “We had some opportunities that we squandered.
“In the last seven or eight years, we’ve lost our first round district match either in overtime or on PKs. It’s a string we just can’t seem to get over the hump. It’s really too many to count.”
In a close battle that featured multiple saves by non-goaltenders on both sides and several shots that came precariously close only to bounce off the cross bar, the Indians seemed to gain some momentum on the two overtime sessions. And it showed on the PKs.
Initial goals by Unionville’s Michael Hewes and Eric Greer put the Bears in trouble right from the start after Ben Wise and Owen Kulig each missed the net on Boyertown’s first two penalty kick efforts. Immediately after Dolce denied Nikhil Verma, Indians’ defender Kyle Garvy ended it.
“I knew their third guy (Verma) there best guy and when Alex stoned him, that’s when I started to think we could pull this one out,” Unionville head coach Rich Garber said.
Early in double overtime, a Greer laser hit the Boyertown crossbar. And in the first OT, Boyertown got a big save from defender Owen Kulig on a shot by Hewes.
Amazingly, the overtimes almost didn’t happen. With less than 10 seconds in regulation, Unionville’s Mark Echevarria nearly ended it dramatically when his long, looping shot from about 40-yards out caught Boyertown’s Connor McKeown out of position. The shot went over the goaltender’s head but bounced squarely off the cross bar.
“It’s rough that we had all of those crossbar hits, but I’m glad we stuck to it and kept going,” Greer said. “When you get close like that, it actually pumps you up, but you have to forget about it and get back into the game.”
The best scoring chance in the opening 60 minutes of action came midway through the second half, when Unionville’s Hunter Firment sent a centering pass to Greer, and he lofted it to Evan Bennis. And even though his header had beaten McKeown, it was turned away by alert defender Erik Recke.
Not to be outdone, the Indians returned the favor in the final two minutes of regulation when the Bears’ Jimmy Towers appeared to beat Indians keeper Garrett Pepper, only to have defender Garrett Hammaker make the save.
“I thought our defense was solid all night,” Garber said.
“I told our guys to have fun with it. Enjoy it. I think they did.”
Unionville 1, Boyertown 0, wins 3-0 on penalty kicks
Boyertown 0 0 0 0 – 0
Unionville 0 0 0 0 – 0
Goalie saves: McKeown (B) 5. Pepper (U) 1. Dolce (U) 2.