The 4,439 fans at Hartman Arena surely didn’t have the Wings’ playoff prospects in mind when they wildly cheered the goal that gave Wichita a 19-17 overtime win over Rochester on Saturday night.
Even though it was the kind of victory that can reverse misfortune, the Wings set aside their postseason thoughts at least immediately after the game, which ended when Bryan Perez put in a rebound.
It felt bigger. It felt like the kind of night coach LeBaron Hollimon envisioned when he decided to become coach for the Wings’ inaugural season, before he even had a roster.
"The atmosphere is what I was thinking of," Hollimon said. "I was hoping we wouldn’t leave it to (sudden) death like that to get it, but that’s the character of the team."
The Wings trail Missouri by three games for the final MISL Central playoff spot with seven games remaining, and their postseason hopes look dim.
Wichita is chasing because of several close losses — seven by three points or less — and Saturday’s game was nine seconds from falling into that category.
With its sixth attacker employed, the Wings had several chances to erase Rochester’s 17-15 lead during the final 2:30. But they controlled possession and Chris Lemons was in the perfect spot to collect a rebound from Angel Rivillo, then collect himself, before driving home the tying goal with 10 seconds remaining.
"It just happened to hit off the wall, hit off my foot, then I just kind of closed my eyes and struck it," Lemons said. "I hit it as hard as I could.… To get the ball in that position is tough enough, especially when they have everybody behind the ball. I was just the lucky guy at the end to get the ball at my feet and be able to strike it."
Rochester outpaced the Wings early in overtime, taking several shots. One deflected off the post, and others came close to getting by Wings goalkeeper Sanaldo Carvalho.
But the Wings’ defense tightened and allowed the Wings to keep the ball in Rochester’s zone. Wichita seemed to have a surge of adrenaline to start the extra period, and when Perez scored nearly nine minutes in, it might have been close to expiring.
Rivillo, a newcomer who scored two goals in his Wichita debut, missed a shot off the boards that Perez gathered, knocking in a point-blank shot.
"With (10) seconds left tying and going to overtime, you do have a lot of adrenaline going," Lemons said. "I commend the boys for staying composed with that adrenaline, defending well as they were pushing, and then knowing that we were going to get our opportunities."
The Wings were short-handed, playing without injured players Freddy Moojen and Edvin Worley, and Kevin Ten Eyck, who sat out after receiving a red card during the previous game.
They were boosted early with three-pointers, which accounted for their first three goals. But Wichita couldn’t separate, as its biggest lead was two points. Rochester was also unable to pull away, taking a lead no larger than three points, but the Lancers often answered Wichita scores quickly.
There was no answer to Perez’s sudden-death goal, though. It may have turned around the season and gave the Wings a final push toward the playoffs, but there will be time to think about that later.
"There’s no better feeling than the absolute joy and euphoria of getting a hard-fought victory," Hollimon said. "We’re going to enjoy this victory. We’ll enjoy this one tonight, then get back to business and training on Monday."