GRAND ISLAND - With one dive to his left. goalkeeper Danny Gamboa provided the thinnest of winning margins needed to secure another Heartland Athletic Conference tournament title for Grand Island Senior High.
Gamboa blocked the shot of Lincoln Southwest’s Logan Kinney in the third round of a shootout Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
That was the only missed penalty kick of the shootout, allowing the Class A No. 3-rated Islanders to outscore the No. 6 Silver Hawks 5-3 in PKs to pick up a 1-0 victory.
“I love to stay on the side of the goal and make them think about it a little more,” said Gamboa of his routine before each try in a shootout. “Luckily I got the right side and committed to it.”
With the Islanders (9-0) winning every previous game by at least two goals, the shootout was the first high-pressure situation of the season for the senior keeper.
He didn’t mind.
“I was comfortable with myself,” Gamboa said. “I’ve done this plenty of times before. I trusted in my teammates to get all five goals in. Without their goals, my save wouldn’t have meant anything.”
Grand Island coach Jeremy Jensen expects that type of performance from Gamboa.
“Fortunately, we have a goalkeeper that’s bailed us out time-and-time again on those PKs,” he said. “He’s absolutely tremendous.”
But the coach summed up his feeling of going into a shootout after 100 scoreless minutes with one word — nervous.
“You hate to see any game end like that,” Jensen said. “Our two teams are so complimentary to each other. To see those kids battle like they did for 100 minutes and to have it come down to 12-yard shots is tough. But obviously they have to figure out a way to end it some way.
“As a coach, you hate everything about those things from the preparation of who is going to be taking the kicks to sitting there watching trying to keep track of where you’re at with the whole process.”
After Gamboa’s save, both teams converted their tries in the fourth round. Senior midfielder Saul Castillo, who battled through the game on a sprained ankle, sealed the win for Grand Island in the fifth.
“It was really good for (Castillo) confidence-wise and everything,” Jensen said. “We’re beat up right now. We have three players who were questionable to even play the game. But all three of them gritted it out.
“Quin (Stolz) had a knee (injury), Lucas (Venegas) has a back issue from a hit he took (in Friday’s semifinals) and Saul is on about the third sprained ankle he’s had this year on the same one. Those three rarely came off the field.”
Lincoln Southwest (8-1) suffered its first loss of the year despite not giving up a goal.
“We made one mistake and they didn’t in the shootout,” Silver Hawk coach Dan Carpenter said. “My third kicker — a great, great kid, Logan Kinney — mishit the ball and knocked it right to their goalie. (He) never does that in training. Never. He’s spot on.
“But that’s pressure. The game’s on the line. You’ve got to rely on him. He’s a two-year starter, a captain and a great kid. And that’s the difference in the game — one tiny mistake against great teams.”
Both teams generated scoring chances in regulation and overtime but couldn’t convert. But both teams also showed signs of playing for the third time in less than 48 hours.
“It reminded me of 3-on-3 basketball at the ‘Y’ sometimes,” Jensen said. “You’ve got guys that are sandbagging on one side and cherry picking on the other.
“Playing three games in that short of time is difficult even for high school kids.”
Some of the Islanders’ best opportunities came in the final 15 minutes of regulation. Lucas Venegas’ shot went off the right post with 13:34 left, and Lincoln Southwest survived two corner kicks in the final 17 seconds.
A Venegas goal was nullified by an offsides call with 2:20 left in overtime.
In the shootout, TJ Mulgrue, Justin Wiley and Tyler Dirksen converted for Lincoln Southwest.
In addition to Castillo, Willy Ortiz, Venegas, Jose Jacobo and Cheyenne Covarrubias made their PKs for the Islanders to clinch a third-straight HAC title.
“It’s a good thing, especially for us seniors, getting three conference titles,” Gamboa said. “We’ve just got to keep it going. Our next goal is a state championship.”
While a state championship is the one goal that has eluded Grand Island, winning another conference crown did elicit a big celebration from the Islanders.
“It means an awful lot to these kids,” Jensen said. “It’s the HAC tournament, but more than anything, these guys have been talking about their winning streak outside the state tournament (44 games), hosting the tournament, not wanting to lose on this field.
“That was a big motivator. It’s hard to say, but if this game was played in Lincoln, I don’t know how the result ends up. But they were very focused. It would have crushed them if they would have lost this game because obviously they would have lost the championship, they would have lost the streak, they would have been beaten on their home field. The seniors have never lost on this turf.”
Carpenter considers the game a middle-of-the-season measuring stick.
“We’ll see these guys again at the end of the year (on April 22),” he said. It’ll be a great match, and we’ll get them then.
“Jeremy Jensen runs a class-act program, and it was exciting to be part of it today.”