Holy Trinity goalkeeper James Linnabary had just made a big save in a sudden death penalty-kick shootout to put his team one made shot away from claiming the district championship.
But as teammate Francisco Martinez walked up to take his penalty kick, Linnabary was on the ground next to the goal with his head on the turf.
“I didn’t even want to look,” Linnabary said. “I was praying. I was like, ‘just please put it in.’ It was crazy.”
With his teammates … OK, most of his teammates … looking on, Martinez approached the ball without a doubt.
“I knew I was going to score,” the senior midfielder said. “It’s all about confidence when it comes to PKs.”
Turns out, Martinez was right.
His shot found the back of the net, and the Tigers claimed their second straight Class 3A, District 10 championship, beating West Shore 7-6 in the penalty shootout after the teams had tied 1-1 in regulation.
It’s the 11th district title overall for the Tigers, and Tuesday night’s win marked the second straight season Holy Trinity and West Shore have had to go to a sudden death penalty kick situation. Last year’s game came in the semifinals.
“It’s like a flash back, a memory,” Linnabary said. “… It’s just great that we could come out with another win.”
The victory means Holy Trinity (10-5) will host District 9 runner-up Lake Highland Prep (3-6-1) at 7 p.m. in the regional quarterfinals next Wednesday. West Shore (12-7-1) will be on the road against Trinity Prep (14-1-1), which is ranked No. 2 in Class 3A by MaxPreps.
Although the Tigers had won their regular-season game against West Shore 1-0, Holy Trinity coach Adrian Moreno told assistant coach Chandler Reed he had a feeling the Tigers were going to have to put in a little extra work in this one.
“I was telling Chandler I have a sneaky suspicion this game is going to penalty kicks,” Moreno said. “Whether it was 0-0, or 1-1, I said it was going to go to penalty kicks before the game even started and lo and behold, it went that way.
“It didn’t go the way I wanted it to, where we were dominating the game. But we got there. We battled back. That’s what I’m happy about.”
West Shore opened the game by pressing forward and trying to lay traps for the Holy Trinity defense. The Tigers struggled to get the ball out of their own end, let alone get into any kind of offensive rhythm.
The Wildcats scored with 8:28 left in the first half when junior Brock Ehmer took advantage of a defensive mistake on a throw-in and chipped the ball in over Linnabary’s head for a 1-0 lead.
But as the game progressed, the Tigers found their footing and their offense.
Holy Trinity would tie it less than 30 seconds into the start of the second half when a throw-in was flicked into the box and the loose ball found the foot of Walker Johnson, who scored the game-tying goal.
Neither team would score again, despite having chances. West Shore keeper Sam Eisert made a spectacular dive to knock away a Holy Trinity shot in the first overtime period.
That led to the penalty kick shootout with West Shore shooting first.
Johnson, Keegan Harrison and Brock Shoultz all made their penalty kicks for Holy Trinity, but the fourth shot – after a little talking by West Shore’s keeper – was saved.
That put the Wildcats in a position to win the shootout if they could make their next kick … only to have Linnabary come up with the save. Linnabary then stepped up to take a PK and converted to tie the score at 4-4 and send the shootout to sudden death.
Once again, the two teams traded back and forth. Linnabary said he guessed right on at least three of West Shore’s attempts, but they were too well struck for him to get a hand on them. Luke Micallef and Will Nifakos, meanwhile, scored for the Tigers to tie things up at 6-6.
That’s when Linnabary came up with another big save.
“The first (save), he opened his foot up, so I knew where he was going,” Linnabary said. “The second one, at the end there, right when he set the ball down, he looked left and then went right.
“Little games and stuff don’t work. I knew right way where he was going.”
That brought it down to Martinez, who along with his teammates had been working on taking PKs for much of the season. He knew where he was going, just like he knew Linnabary would step up big at some point.
“I had a lot of confidence in James,” Martinez said. “He’s had an unbelievable season and he’s just getting warmed up. I knew as soon as James saved it that we won it. I knew it for a fact. I knew I was going to put it in bottom left. I called it. We got the dub and we keep moving on.”
Martinez’s final shot set off a wild celebration for the Tigers, who after receiving the trophy, ran toward their stands to share the moment with their friends and families.
“A lot of emotions. It’s just insane. Unbelievable,” Martinez said. “We’ve been practicing this for a solid month or two. I knew where I was going from the start. I knew the boys needed this.
“It was well-deserved. We played the entire match well. It was a group effort, really. It’s unbelievable. It feels like a dream.”
While it’s Holy Trinity’s second straight district title, the teams that won them are completely different in style.
Whereas last year’s group relied heavily on getting the ball to Eddie Marr, Jackson Mariani and Ryan Mozer and having them create something, this year’s group has been more centered on possessing the ball and building out of the back.
This year’s Tigers have relied heavily on a core group of players like Linnabary; Johnson; Shoultz; Martinez; Harrison; Micallef; Nifakos; Ty Schrumpf; Will Bell; Luc Chaffiot; Dante Valdivia; Hunter Hammond; and Grayson Guedes to get the job done.
The Tigers have felt overlooked each of the past two seasons, but they’re the ones with the hardware.
“Another year where people were like, ‘you lost Eddie. You lost Jackson. You lost Ryan. How are you going to make all these goals?” Moreno said.
“Proved them wrong again. We’re doing something right here.”
And if you ask Martinez and Linnabary, Tuesday’s win was not about the performance of any one player. It was a group effort. Always has been.
“Every single minute out there is for the team, it’s not for individuals,” Linnabary said. “That’s what makes us special. We’ve got a bunch of team-effort players that are willing to fight for each other.
“We don’t have the most-skilled players in Brevard, but we have a team. We have the heart.”