By Jeremy Balan
Stuart Hall junior Patrick Miller was on the junior varsity team as recently as Monday, when the Knights defeated Urban in the first round of the Bay Counties League West playoffs.
For whatever reason, Stuart Hall head coach Antonio Villegas called Miller up for the Knights’ semifinal match against University on Wednesday at Crocker Amazon Playground.
The match went to penalty kicks after the two teams ended regulation and two overtime periods at a 1-1 tie, and it was Miller who came up in penalty kicks with the opportunity to put the match away.
As the fourth shooter, with a 2-1 edge in penalty kicks, Miller delivered a picture-perfect strike past University goalkeeper John Schember, into the top right corner of the net to send the Knights to the league championship game.
“I just brought him up from JV today,” Villegas said. “I sent him down to JV after our first six games, because he wasn’t pushing himself. I told him he was good enough to be here, but he needed to work. I told him I’d bring him up for this game, just to use his boot, and he got to use it and put it away.”
The Knights (9-5-3) will face Marin Academy on its home field in the league championship game on Friday. The top-seeded Wildcats (15-2-1) easily dispatched fifth-seeded Drew 6-0 in the other semifinal.
“It just feels great,” Miller said. “I never thought we would be able to make it to the championship, but that’s what we’ve been working for all year.”
Miller delivered the deciding blow, but it was three University misses on penalty kicks that put him in position to win the match. All three University misfires missed the net entirely.
“It’s absurd, but the kids that missed are young,” said University head coach Deejae Johnson. “Sometimes it’s not the better kids that score, it’s just the kids that keep their nerves. If we did it again tomorrow, maybe they’d make them. I’d expect that they would, but in the heat of the moment, they didn’t.”
The finish capped a frenetic game that featured multiple chances for both sides.
The teams entered the half at a scoreless tie, with both teams hitting the crossbar on key opportunities in the first half, but it was University that struck first, on a goal from John Knutsen in the 56th minute.
Stuart Hall evened the score in the 69th minute, when Carlos Guardia sent a free kick into the box. The kick rattled around between players and squirted out to forward Skyler Dayton, who tapped the ball past Schember.
In many ways, the tightly contested match reflected the regular season matches between the two teams. University won the first meeting 2-0 and the teams fought to a scoreless draw in the second.
“There wasn’t a whole lot between us in the three games we played,” Johnson said. “They had as many chances as we did today, it was just a matter of who was going to put them away. We got one, they got one, and away you go.”
For Stuart Hall, the next challenge is Marin Academy, which remains undefeated in league play on the season. Marin Academy won both regular-season meetings between the two teams 5-1 and 2-0.
“It’s always fun to play the better teams,” Villegas said. “But we’re here now and anything can happen. You gotta beat the best to be the best.”
U: 56th minute — John Knutsen
SH: 69th minute — Skyler Dayton
U: Knutsen miss
SH: Carlos Guardia scores
U: Wyatt Kim miss
SH: Sterling Kirk miss
U: Kirk Horton scores
SH: Connor Bottum scores
U: Michael Lauricella miss
SH: Patrick Miller scores