Four overtimes. Twenty penalty kicks. Nearly two full hours of extra soccer.
Oh, and one incredible goalkeeping performance.
In a match that saw Rose Hill’s Geoffrey Stitcher lift his team time and time again, it was only fitting that the senior would follow up his go-ahead penalty kick with the game-deciding save to send the Rockets to their second consecutive Class 4-1A state championship match with a 2-2 (7-6) victory over DeSoto on Friday.
Rose Hill (19-1) will face Bishop Miege on Saturday after the Stags defeated Ottawa 4-1 in the other semifinal.
“He opened his hips up,” said Stitcher of his save. “It’s going to go that way.”
The marathon match looked anything but a possibility early on, with Rose Hill dominating large stretches of the first half after taking the lead 10 minutes into the contest courtesy of Parker Austin’s neatly-placed header following Christian Helmke’s lofted corner.
With a one-goal advantage, the Rockets dropped numbers behind the ball, content to absorb pressure and hit De Soto on the counter. The Wildcats struggled to break down a defense anchored by the center back pairing of Alek and Logan Santo and nearly faced a two goal deficit when Helmke’s right footed effort from just outside the area bounced off the crossbar after beating De Soto goalkeeper Dylan Mathern with 12 minutes left in the first half.
It was De Soto making the most out of their opportunities after the break, however, with Stephen Mitchell netting the equalizer with 26:05 left in the match, only for Rose Hill’s Chance Beckham to restore the Rockets one goal advantage with a beautifully taken set piece from 18-yards out that knuckled into the upper left corner of Mathern’s net.
As what became a theme throughout the match, De Soto would respond, however, with Glynn Leininger’s late half-volley sending the game to extra time with just 1:48 left in regulation.
From there, it was all Stitcher.
He kept the De Soto attack at bay for four straight overtime periods, making one save in the second overtime that called for the senior to lay out to push away a De Soto strike that looked destined for the bottom corner of the net.
Twentypenalty kicks after they began, one made spot kick and four saves later, Stitcher found himself in the center of a massive Rose Hill celebration.
“To go 10 penalty kicks deep and have all 20 kickers put their shots on frame is outstanding,” said Rose Hill head coach Jerry Treat. “For him to score the goal and save theirs, you just cannot write a better script.”
The Rockets insist that there is still plenty of that script left to be written however. Rose Hill’s stretch of six semifinal appearances in the last seven years has never ended with a title, something this year’s Rockets are keen on changing.
“What this has taken is a lot of perseverance and trust in each other,” Helmke said. “We are looking to change history. We want to bring home that trophy.”
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Penalty Kicks: Rose Hill 7, De Soto 6
Rose Hill: Beckham, Helmke, Treat, Beckham, Smith, Santo, Stitcher
De Soto: Slater, Culver, Zoller, Williams, Lamar, Post
First half—Rose Hill: Austin (Santo assist). Second half—Rose Hill: Chance Beckham (Chase Beckham). De Soto: Mitchell (unassisted) Leininger (unassisted) Shots—Rose Hill 11-5-2-1-1—20, De Soto 4-9-3-3-3-1—23. Saves—Rose Hill, Stitcher 3-3-2-3-2-1—14; De Soto, Mathern 3-1-1-1-1-0—7.