Nick Lara stood in between the pipes, mentally preparing himself for what was to come. Just 20 minutes prior, the Atholton senior goalkeeper stoned a Glenelg penalty shot to preserve a two-goal lead as the second-half minutes dwindled away.
But in that climacteric moment, with a mere 88 seconds left on the clock and that once two-goal lead cut in half, Lara braced himself, awaiting a second penalty kick that was being sized up by Gladiators midfielder Campbell Shepard.
Lara shut his eyes and visualized, and then reopened them to examine his opposition. The slim odds of turning away two penalty shots in one night never crossed Lara’s mind. He had already deciphered it all.
“Whenever that moment happens, you just gotta clear your mind,” Lara said. “So, that’s what I did. I cleared my mind. I thought about what I could expect, since I know those two players. I was able to see their hips and the way they move so I was able to trust my decision based off that. … I took ahold of it and went with it.”
Lara sprawled to his right and rejected Shepard’s attempt toward the bottom left corner, sealing Atholton’s fourth straight win on Tuesday night at Glenelg, 3-2.
The senior goalkeeper finished the night with five saves, adding fuel to what was an already physical game between one side desperately trying to end a losing slide and the other gunning to maintain momentum with the playoffs right around the corner.
“I always have trust in Nick, but seeing him make those two big plays, it just reminds me how lucky I am to have such a great keeper on my team,” said Raiders captain Tejas Khanna. “When I see him making those saves, I have to come up big on the other side of the field so his efforts don’t go to waste.”
Khanna didn’t let his opportunities go by the wayside. Six minutes into regulation, he put on the burners to track down a long heave from Andy Boulle as he raced toward the net. Khanna then sent the well-placed dish into the back of the net, giving Atholton (4-3-1 county, 4-4-1 overall) the early 1-0 lead.
After the two sides traded goals sandwiched around halftime, Khanna caught the defense napping as he zipped through the Gladiators backline and finished the decisive goal in the slot, which made it 3-1 with less than 28 minutes to play.
Atholton, which created seven corner kick tries compared to none for Glenelg, had scored its second goal when Jake Morales headed a deflection off a corner kick at the doorstep. The score broke a 1-1 tie just nine minutes into the second half.
Glenelg (1-7, 1-9-1), meanwhile, simply couldn’t capitalize on enough opportunities and sniff out Atholton’s blitzing offensive attack. The Gladiators actually played the final 17 minutes of Tuesday night’s game a man up after Morales was ejected with a red card. They also generated 10 shots total, with six being on goal and two coming off penalty shots.
Connor Hughes scored the first Glenelg goal with nine minutes left in the first half and Charlie Mavronis netted the second, which came with 12 minutes to go in regulation. Shepard assisted on both scores.
“I don’t think we’re playing well enough to win games at the varsity level in Howard County. It’s one of those where we have a lot of learning to do in order for us to have more wins and success as far as wins and losses go,” Glenelg coach Joey Osborne said. “We’ve been harping on it all season: It comes down to set pieces, being able to score and defend. … We didn’t do that well. Missed two [penalty kicks] in a game, it’s tough.”
Glenelg’s starting goalkeeper Matt Thurnes, who did not record a save on Thursday, exited the contest at the 29:20 mark in the first half after scrapping for a save in traffic and is being evaluated for a broken nose. Aden Boyer came on in relief and notched five saves.
For Atholton, even though it did get back to the .500 mark, coach Mike Bouman expressed displeasure in his team’s inability to stay composed in intensified moments.
“It was embarrassing,” he said, likely referring to the red card. “The conduct was embarrassing. … I think the talent and potential of this group is among the best I’ve coached. I’ve been coaching here for five years. But they need to both play and act like men, otherwise we’re not going anywhere. We still have a little ways to go.”
Atholton will look to up the ante when it hosts undefeated River Hill on Friday night.
“We remind our team every day we started off the season 0-3 [in county]. We know we can’t go back to that and we know, yeah, we’re building confidence, we have to keep ourselves in check,” Khanna said. “Like, we’ve got to make sure nobody gets too cocky or arrogant with all these wins. Just have to take it one game at a time, like it’s our last. I mean, it’s our senior season. We gotta make the most of it.”