Late goal lifts South soccer over Central, 2-1
Abhram Lopez didn't know it at the time, but his left foot gave Salina South's boys just the leg up that they needed.
After that, it was simply a matter of cashing in when the opportunity presented itself.
Lopez's goal just before halftime not only got South even at the break, but also turned the tide for the Cougars, who still needed a game winner from Josh Amador in the 77th minute to edge rival Salina Central, 2-1, Tuesday night at Salina Stadium.
"I really felt the momentum swing when we got that goal," Lopez said of the equalizer, after Reese Nesting had given Central the lead in the 24th minute.
Even after defender Nik Highsmith was sent off with a red card in the 64th minute, South held its own. Then, with just over three minutes left, a Central foul resulting in a pair of yellow cards for Liam Foley got the Cougars back on even terms and set up the game winner.
Brandon Oaks' free kick from 25 yards on the left side started the sequence. He first fired into the Mustang wall, then put the rebound on goal.
Central keeper Grant Sheppard stopped the shot, but couldn't control it, allowing Anthony Pina to get a touch just right of the goal, redirecting it toward Amador.
"Pina hit it on the rebound and I hit it in the goal," Amador said. "It was an open chance.
"I knew I had to step up for my team and make a goal."
With the victory, South improved to 5-1, while Central fell to 2-2.
It was Lopez's goal in the 38th minute that put the Cougars on the right track. Jose Ortega sent a ball in from the left wing and Lopez crashed toward the near post, extending his left foot in front of Central's defender and punching it in.
"We swung the ball right to left and Jose took it down the sideline," Lopez said. "I got my left foot in front of the defender.
"I got a pretty good look at it and knew what I had to do, and just executed it."
It was just the kind of textbook finish South coach Trey Crow was looking for.
"It was just good hustle and running through the ball," Crow said. "We always tell them to run through the whistle, and that's what he did."
Central was the aggressor for much of the first half, putting five of seven shots on goal and breaking through when Nesting fired a shot off the right post from close range, then pounded in the rebound for a 1-0 Mustang advantage.
South picked up the pace toward the end of the half, but Lopez's goal was just the Cougars' second one on frame before the break.
"We just didn't do a good job of closing out the half," Central coach Cameron Hunter said. "That's when you need to play sharp defensively. We didn't, and got punished for it."
The Mustangs also were unable to capitalize on the man advantage late in the game. They managed just one shot on goal in the second half.
"We didn't keep our composure and look for the open man, which is what you do when you're a man up," Hunter said. "But it's all a learning experience."
For South, it was a nice bounce-back after losing 9-2 to Maize South on Saturday in the finals of the Maize South Tournament.
"We found a way," Crow said. "We harped yesterday that today is a new day and you get to play a game you love. And it's a special opponent that's your rival.
"We were a little unorganized at the beginning, but we cleaned it up once we got the goal up until we were down a man. And then we took advantage of the chance when we needed to."
South finished with 14 shots, six of them on goal, while Central put six of its eight attempts on frame.
"The most important thing for us is to remain competitive," Hunter said.
HIGH SCHOOL BOYS
SALINA SOUTH 2, SALINA CENTRAL 1
First half—SC: Nesting (unassisted), 24th minute; Lopez (Ortega), 38th.
Second half—SS: Amador (Pina), 77th.
Shots—SC 8, SS 14. Saves—SC 4, SS 5. Goalkeepers—SC: Sheppard, SS: Nunez.
Junior varsity—Tie, 0-0.