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No. 3 C. Milton Wright boys soccer falls to J.M. Bennett on penalty kicks in Class 3A state title game

All through their challenging run to Friday night’s Class 3A state title game, the C. Milton Wright boys soccer team was able to find the answers to keep its season alive.

On the season’s final day, against formidable James M. Bennett, the Mustangs played with the same energy, but the result simply wasn’t there.

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After 100 minutes of scoreless play, the championship came down to penalty kicks. The Clippers (16-0-1) were perfect, securing a 4-2 shootout victory to claim the program’s second title.

C. Milton Wright, which closed the season 14-4-1, didn’t surrender a goal in all five of its postseason games. Making their fourth straight trip to the state title game, the Mustangs fell for the second straight time after winning back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018.

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“We had 17 seniors that didn’t get the opportunity to play last year and they were hungry, wanting to get back to playing,” C. Milton coach Brian Tully said. “They continually fought and stayed together and bought into what we were asking from them and always knew what the goal was. We just couldn’t find that one moment on Friday.”

The Clippers took the early advantage in the shootout when goalkeeper Jack Mitchell made a save. Cooper Johnston, Jackson Wilkins and Walner Anescar all scored, and after a miss from the Mustangs, JP Wright clinched the victory by finding the left corner of the net.

Through 80 minutes of regulation, the Mustangs had a little more time with the ball, but both teams couldn’t find a breakthrough on their scoring chances.

The Clippers’ leading scorer, Anescar, was a threat on a couple occasions, and his best chance in regulation came early in the game. In the 11th minute, he made a decisive run with the ball on the left side and won the end line before sending a short ball to the middle that was cut off and eventually cleared by a defender.

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The Mustangs’ best chance came less than three minutes later with Ethan Bender sending a ball to the middle that Adrian Gonzalez got to first. His header went off the crossbar and an errant clear by a Clippers defender hit the post, but Gonzalez’s second header went straight to Mitchell for an easy save.

The pace and chances slowed in a quieter second half. Early on, CMW’s Jake Kegley collected a through ball from Caleb Carpenter and hit a left-footed shot from 16 yards that ended up wide of the goal.

The Clippers had a dangerous free kick outside the right edge of the penalty area that Cooper Johnson struck cleanly, but right at goalkeeper Jacob Adams.

Early in the second 10-minute overtime, Anescar had the best chance to give the Clippers the win when he sliced through two defenders to get in deep on the right side and take a low shot from 5 yards. But Johnson held his ground on the near post to make a brilliant reaction save to keep the game going.

Gonzalez, who scored 15 goals and added four assists as the Mustangs’ season-long catalyst, showed the disappointment on his face after the loss. But the season brought more to him and the team than Friday’s outcome.

“The amount of passion, dedication, hard work and effort we put into this season — 17 seniors — you can’t top that,” he said.

The Mustangs proved resilient with two gutsy road wins, both shutouts, leading into the title game. After claiming the North region, they visited Howard County power Mt. Hebron in the quarterfinals and eked out a 1-0 win on a header from Gonzalez early in the second half and tidy defense.

In the semifinal game at unbeaten Tuscarora, the Mustangs often surrendered possession, but didn’t yield any goals, making the most of their own scoring chances for a 2-0 win. The Titans had previously scored at least two goals per game before finishing with a 17-1-1 mark.

After Friday’s win, Bennett coach Gabe Kane mentioned the strong unity his team had with most of his senior-laden group having played together since their childhood days. He was quick to applaud the Mustangs, saying they were the one team you didn’t want to play but also the team you did want to play to rightfully earn the title.

Saves: CMW – Adams 4; JMB – Mitchell 3

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