BALTIMORE — With the second overtime winding down and the score knotted at 1-1 Saturday, Oakdale’s Daniel Ivanov and Jack Roby knew the Bears were likely headed for a penalty-kick shootout against River Hill in the Class 2A state final.
And as the final kicker in Oakdale’s series, Ivanov, a junior midfielder, knew the match might very well come down to his foot. But first, he’d need some help from Roby, the Bears’ goalkeeper, to stop as many Hawks kicks as he could.
Roby, a senior, responded, stopping River Hill’s first two shots. The Hawks converted their remaining three kicks, so it came down to Ivanov.
With the shootout tied at 3-3, his shot was perfect, deposited into the upper right corner of the net. Ivanov turned around and ran headlong into a mass celebration with his teammates after sealing the third state title in program history, and first since 2015, at Loyola University’s Ridley Athletic Complex.
“I felt pretty confident,” Ivanov said, following the win. “I just stayed focused and took the kick.”
Oakdale coach Mitch Rubin explained that during practice, if a kick is missed, he puts his players a “fitness” session, where they exercise a bit to sharpen their penalty-kick skills. Rubin admits he may be a little hard on his players at these times, but he said they’re willing to make the effort to get better in those situations.
“The work we do on penalty kicks in practice pays off,” Rubin said. “Penalty kicks are not just luck, they’re skill. You have to work at it.”
While his teammates would work on converting penalty kicks, Roby spends his time trying to stop them, facing shot after shot in practice.
“I do it every day in practice,” Roby said. “You have to stay prepared for these situations.”
So after regulation and two 10-minute overtimes, it was time to see if those special practice sessions were worth it against a nationally ranked opponent.
River Hill (16-1-1) went first in the shootout, missing its first two kicks thanks to two big stops by Roby.
“Jack had a phenomenal match,” Rubin said. “He came up big with those stops in the shootout.”
Riley Daiger missed the Bears’ first kick, but Noe Meiger found his mark for Oakdale. Julian Eiguera, Jackson Dixon and Senior Annankawa converted for the Hawks the rest of the way, as did the Bears’ Anthony Kocan and Bryce Fischer.
After Annankawa converted and the score was 3-3, it was time for Ivanov’s kick. He stepped to the line, took a deep breath and put the punctuation on the match.
“This team plays with a lot of heart,” said Kocan, who was a freshman on Oakdale’s 2015 championship team. “Everyone on this team has worked so hard to reach this goal. We beat a very good River Hill team today.”
Rubin, who took over the Oakdale boys in 2016, has seen the Bears mature over the years. Nine players, including Roby, graduate next spring.
“We spend an awful lot of time in the offseason together,” Rubin said. “This includes about three days a week in the summer. This team has developed a real bond over the years. They’ve grown up a lot.”
Saturday’s shootout capped what seemed to be a long, stressful day for both teams, but Oakdale gained the early 1-0 advantage.
Myers saw a breakaway opportunity for fellow midfielder Riley Daiger as he crossed midfield. Myers flipped the ball ahead to Daiger, who split two defenders and headed straight for the River Hill goal. Just inside the penalty area, Daiger fired a pinpoint accurate shot beyond the reach of River Hill keeper Patrick Sherlock with 10 minutes, 31 seconds to go in the first half, giving the Bears the lead.
“That was a great move by Riley,” Rubin said. “He was concentrating on driving to the goal. Nothing else mattered, not even the guys marking him.”
Less than three minutes into the second half, the Hawks came back with an equalizer.
With the ball bouncing around in front of the Oakdale goal following a restart, River Hill’s Justin Harris flicked a deflected shot back into the Bears goal, tying the match.
Rubin said, when scouting an opponent, it’s sort of unusual to see one like River Hill, which has so many players with great technical skills. After the Hawks tied the match, Rubin wasn’t certain just how long his Bears could maintain such a high level of intensity against such a talented foe.
“It can get pretty tiring out there,” Daiger said. “But we were confident we could hang with them and finish this game.”
River Hill outshot Oakdale 19-10. Roby had nine saves for the Bears, stopping at least three shots from near point-blank range.
River Hill coach Matt Shengogue agreed Saturday’s match with Oakdale was hard-fought.
“I think Oakdale absorbed a lot of the pressure we put on them,” he said. “Of course, our guys are heart-broken, it’s very devastating for them.”
On the other hand, Sam Myers, a sophomore, summed up Oakdale’s 14-5-1 championship season by saying, “I’ve never been a part of something so exciting in my entire life.”