By Brandon Speck
NEW ALBANY – Pontotoc’s road to a Class 4A repeat didn’t start out with smooth pavement.
Even four extra periods Wednesday weren’t enough to decide the MHSAA Class 4A soccer playoff opener. It took penalty kicks on the sub-freezing night for the Warriors to beat New Albany, 5-4, a 3-0 decision in penalty kicks.
“They were looking for some payback for last year,” Pontotoc coach Michael Loden said. “I told the guys before we came out, this might be the toughest game we play.”
Diego Pizarro, Rafael Vidana and Sergio Arias each kicked in penalty kicks after 30 extra minutes didn’t produce a winning goal.
Pontotoc put New Albany out of the playoffs last season and beat the Bulldogs on PKs earlier this season.
New Albany was close to that payback. After a handball in the final 5 minutes of regulation, New Albany junior Eduardo Fernandez’s goal put the Bulldogs ahead 4-3.
But on the other end of the field, reigning Journal Player of the Year Rafael Vidana somehow scored in a scrum to send the game to overtime.
“A one-goal lead is scary to play with,” New Albany coach Caryl Vogel said. “The first five minutes after you score a goal are the most crucial minutes of the game. Some teams step up the next five minutes. Some teams take a break. We took a break.”
Pontotoc (12-5-1) will host either Richland or Lafayette on Saturday.
Pizarro scored three goals, the game’s first goal before Fernandez tied it in one of the game’s frantic spurts, and a PK that tied it with 8:04 to play. Arias put Pontotoc ahead 2-1 in the first half, but Jose Favela tied it a minute later.
New Albany took a 3-2 lead on Joseph Rainey’s header late in the first half, from a throw-in from brother Eathen Rainey.
Freshman keeper Tristan Gilbert stopped all three shots in the shootout.
“He made a couple of mistakes at the beginning of the game and came up big when it mattered,” Loden said.