Jackets fall to Chapel Hill in shootout

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The Mineola Yellowjackets were not mathematically out of the playoffs, but the odds were minuscule. Nonetheless, a relaxed and focused Jacket side took the pitch against the Chapel Hill Bulldogs and very nearly produced a season-defining upset. After a full time 1-1 tie, the Jackets were defeated in a shoot-out 6-5.

With a 10-2 district record and second only to Mabank, the Chapel Hill side is an exceptionally-talented soccer team. Equally adept attacking left or right, fast and spatially-aware, Chapel Hill is the cream of 4A Region 2 District 14.  

But this is soccer, a sport where singular moments of brilliance can come from any one of 22 players on the pitch and where a couple of those moments can overcome the very best team statistics. 

The first two attacks of the game said a lot about what was to come.

At the opening whistle, the Jackets played a long ball ahead to striker Omar Galaz who mustered a shot on goal. Moments later, Chapel Hill forced a tough save by Mineola goalkeeper John Underwood on a free kick rocket which knuckleballed toward him at pace. As came to be true throughout the game, Mineola would depend on the counterattack while facing quality offensive attacks from the Bulldogs.

Chapel Hill dominated possession and passing numbers by huge margins. They attempted to draw the Yellowjackets out of their defensive half, but the Jackets did not take the bait. Repeated attacks by Chapel Hill were repelled throughout the first half. Yellowjacket goalkeeper Underwood made six saves in the first half, four in the second half, and saved a penalty kick in the shoot-out. His decision-making was excellent. 

The game was approaching predictability when lightning struck. In a rare Mineola offensive foray, Yimi Nunez teamed up with Galaz to break into the offensive zone. Chapel Hill was whistled for a penalty and the Jackets had a free kick from about 35 meters out.

Team Captain Gustavo Sanchez stepped up and delivered a laser-like shot off his right foot which whipped the netting as it passed just under the crossbar. The Chapel Hill keeper was frozen by the pace of the shot. In a flash Mineola had taken a 1-0 lead. 

The 17th minute goal lit fires under the Chapel Hill side. A mere three minutes later they answered the goal with a long centering pass from the left corner which was put home near the back post.

Following the Bulldog goal, Mineola faced attack after attack from the visitors. The halftime buzzer could not come quickly enough. Underwood and the Yellowjacket defense withstood the deluge and the game stood tied at half.

The Yellowjackets came out with renewed vigor in the second half. They challenged more effectively in the midfield and produced a number of forays into the offensive zone. The most promising of these early second-half attacks came at the 49th and 50th minutes. Combination play again between Nunez and Galaz generated a shot which was saved. One minute later, Mineola took a short corner, drove up the end line and centered a ball which just could not be put away. 

With these two exceptions, Chapel Hill dominated the play in the second half. Underwood came up strong again in the 65th minute with a difficult save off a deflection directly in front of goal. 

The Yellowjackets almost stole the game in the 75th minute.  A Mineola midfielder played a ball through to Galaz who was breaking downfield from the left wing. The pass was perfectly placed but long. Galaz had to catch up to it near the edge of the box. Just as he gained control, the Bulldog keeper came out on a rush and disrupted the shot. It was very nearly a winning goal. 

Mineola withstood immense pressure in the final minutes to preserve the tie.

The game would be decided in the eastern end zone of Meredith Memorial Stadium. 

The initial set of five penalty kicks finished yet tied at four successful kicks each. The Yellowjackets missed one kick, while Underwood came through with a save to send the kicks into a sudden death format.

Mineola’s second penalty kick passed just wide and Chapel Hill converted to win the game  1-1 (6-5). 

It wasn’t a heart-breaking loss. It was a positive, confidence-building game for Coach Turner and his charges. Chapel Hill had skunked the Yellowjackets back in early February, 5-0. This rematch demonstrated a Yellowjacket team that had matured and found its pace. It speaks well for the future.  

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