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Miller: Soccer Shootouts: The Thrill of Victory, and the Agony of Defeat

Game One of the World Series was rapidly drawing to a close on Tuesday night, but for a few hundred players, coaches and fans, the highest sporting drama of the night was playing out on the artificial turf at Brookwood Park in Clare, Michigan.

That is where and Tawas Area had just gone through 100 scoreless minutes of boys high school soccer, and would be settling their regional semifinal match with a shootout.

It is one of the ultimate contests of gut-wrenching pressure.  Even on the sidelines, waiting with my camera ready to capture the drama, I was on edge… although some of those nerves might’ve had something to do with the rapidly dwindling window of time between that moment, and when I needed to have the highlights edited and on the air.

Even still, I felt the pressure as each of the first two shooters for both teams stepped up and calmly put their shots into the back of the net. The real turning point came when the Braves’ third shooter hit his shot off of the crossbar and out – opening the door for the Huskies. Benzie scored on their third shooter to take the lead, and then goalie Isaiah Zeller came up with a huge save for Benzie Central on the fourth Tawas shooter.

That set the stage for Benzie’s chance to close it out, but Tawas’s Daniel Shattuck wasn’t ready to give up, and he made a great save to keep the shootout going. And after the fifth Tawas shooter scored to tie the shootout at three, it all came down to the final shooter, Benzie Central’s Jerry Gomez.  He calmly scored low on the right-hand side, and the celebration was on, with all of his teammates meeting him somewhere around the 30-yard line in a giant, ecstatic group hug. Suddenly the cold night air felt a little bit warmer. It was surely the thrill of victory for a team that is exploring uncharted territory on this playoff run.

For the athletes from Tawas, I’m sure it was a crushing defeat, and it reminded me of earlier this year, during the girls soccer season, when one of our local teams was on the wrong end of a shootout loss. 

The Lady Elks were highly ranked for much of the season, and in a regional final match at Mt. Pleasant vs. Montrose they outplayed the Rams for the entirety of regulation, and overtime, despite the fact that they had yet to score a goal. Montrose’s goalie made a couple of clutch saves, and so the game went into a shootout, and when the first Montrose player put foot to ball for the shootout, that was the Rams’ first shot of the game. And yet despite that fact, because of the randomness of the shootout, Montrose was able to prevail when the Elks’ final shooter saw their shot bounce off of the crossbar. And in a cruel bit of irony, the Rams would lose the state final exactly a week later on a shootout.

That Elks loss was in all honesty a tough result even for me to handle, and I have no particular affiliation with Elk Rapids.  It made me question the validity of the shootout as a way to determine a winner.

And yet those thoughts were far from my mind on Tuesday night, as the Huskies jubilantly exulted in their victory. 

I think I can take a lesson from these experiences… shootouts, like a lot of events in life come with both good and bad results, and you have to be mentally and physically prepared for either outcome, or you’ll never be up for the challenge when it’s your time to step up and take the shot.

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