DeKALB – DeKalb coach PJ Hamilton said the key to penalty kicks is to be able to make one save.
It took eight rounds of PKs between Rockford East and DeKalb before a goalie made a save, and it was Hunter Leman coming through for the Barbs in the 1-0 win in the semifinals of the Class 3A DeKalb Regional on Tuesday.
“It’s amazing,” Leman said. “All the nerves, coming together. But we got it together. I can’t thank my defense enough. They pulled together and supported me very well.”
Through eight rounds of PKs, the No. 7 E-Rabs and No. 10 Barbs each connected on seven. This was after 100 minutes of scoreless soccer. Each team had missed a PK in the first round of five.
East (12-11) was taking their shots first, and Saidi Shabani went right against Leman, who batted it away.
“They’re my least favorite, but you have to stay confident,” Leman said. “You’re not expected to make the save, but when you do make the save, it’s that much better.
“I was just so excited to be able to spike the ball into the ground,” he said. “It was an amazing feeling.”
That gave Tyler Diedrich a chance to give the Barbs (10-7-3) the upset, and he connected past Christian Hernandez, going left for the win.
“We’ve been taking PKs for days, building for a moment like this,” Hamilton said. “He’s been putting the ball in the back of the net well, and what an opportunity for a sophomore to learn and grow from these experiences.”
Neither team was able to connect in regulation, although both offenses kept the opposing defense busy. Leman ended up turning away nine shots, while Hernandez made 11 saves for Rockford East.
“Hunter has been the spine of our program all year,” Hamilton said. “All year he continued to lead by example day in and day out. There’s not a guy more than him I would trust in the net.”
Hamilton said he was impressed with the defensive showing.
“We didn’t give up any goals, so we played really well,” said defender Manny Bonilla, who not only helped anchor the defense but scored the seventh penalty kick for the Barbs. “It feels amazing.”
The teams traded the first two penalty kicks, with Jacob Larsen and Carlos Lopez connecting for the Barbs. Landon Weishaar missed his shot off the top of the crossbar for DeKalb, and the Barbs were behind 3-2.
But at the start of the fourth round, Gamaliel Ramirez’s shot sailed high, and Edgar Gonalez connected for the Barbs to tie the shootout.
“We continue to let them know if they believe in each other and continue to do the right things day in and day out, opportunities like this will come full circle,” Hamilton said. “It’s a great reminder of our persistence. Moments like this can be cherished as long as we continue to do the right thing day in and day out.”
The Barbs advance to face No. 2 Huntley, which knocked off McHenry, 1-0, in the earlier semifinal Tuesday. The teams meet at 6 p.m. Friday for the crown and a trip to the Huntley Sectional.
“I think it’s going to be a good confidence booster,” Leman said. “We can hang with a team that is seeded higher than us. It should give us a lot of confidence.”