GRAYSON Greenup County lost nearly three weeks off its boys soccer season due to a positive COVID-19 case, so the Musketeers' 62nd District Tournament semifinal against West Carter was only their fourth game of the year.
"They've practiced probably 10 times more than they've played," Greenup County coach Brad Quillen said. "I'm glad they're gonna get to play at least a couple more games."
The Musketeers indeed play on because they knocked off the Comets in kicks from the mark, 4-3, after a scoreless regulation and two overtime periods on Tuesday night at Bill Ticknor Memorial Soccer Field.
Greenup County didn't just end one season's worth of frustration. The Musketeers snapped a 42-game losing streak dating back to the first round of the 2017 district tournament.
"Everybody we put in down the line did their job," Quillen said. "They played hard, they listened, they're coachable and they're a good bunch of kids. It's a big win for them, it's a big win for the parents, it's a big win for the program."
After 90 minutes with plenty of chances for both teams but no goals, the Musketeers and Comets took to the spot. Greenup County senior keeper Konner Griffith changed the complexion of the situation immediately by stuffing the first West Carter shot he saw with his knee.
"That's the loneliest position in sports, in penalty kicks, especially when you got something like this riding on the line," Quillen said. "That was a heavy weight on his shoulders. I could see it in his eyes, and I told him, 'Listen, I played goalie. You just gotta guess. You're just guessing and hope you guess right.'"
The next seven penalty kicks, with the Musketeers and Comets alternating, were good. Trace Claxon, Aaron Brown, Ryan Schulz and Travis Reed each connected for Greenup County. Reed's was the most unnerving for the Musketeers: West Carter keeper Hunter Sammons got his hand on the ball, but it had enough momentum to carry across the goal line.
After Griffith stopped the Comets' first shot, West Carter's next three shooters tallied: Cade Carter, Noah Hicks and Tristan Moore. That left the Musketeers ahead, 4-3, through four rounds of five, with the Comets having one more chance to tie it again.
But West Carter's fifth try carried wide right to send Greenup County's dugout spilling onto the field.
Both teams had a handful of near misses in regulation. The Comets' Jake Barker, Galvin Sparks and Moore made defensive plays in the box to help out Sammons in the third, 63rd and 85th minutes, respectively, and Sammons dove on a Musketeers cross in the 71st.
For Greenup County, Griffith leaped to knock away a shot in the 22nd minute and took away another try in the 75th.
And Hicks's cross in the 65th minute nearly bent inside the Musketeers' far post, and Sparks's run at a loose ball mere seconds from full time stayed just feet wide of the near post.
Greenup County (1-3) sent the speedy Reed on a handful of runs, but for the most part was content to focus on preventing West Carter from scoring.
"As we realized we needed to score, we started to lose a grip and play more direct and make worse decisions," Comets assistant coach Garrett Sparks said. "And when it comes down to PKs, it's anybody's game."
On Tuesday, it was Greenup County's game, for the first time in just over three calendar years.
"We played four bad minutes at Morgan, and Morgan got us," Quillen said of a 4-3 loss in West Liberty on Sept. 14. "They played 90 minutes tonight, and they got it."
Greenup County advances to tonight's district tournament final against host East Carter and to the 16th Region Tournament, which begins Saturday at Boyd County.
Garrett Sparks served as the head honcho for the Comets (4-4-1) in place of Nate Shelton, who was in quarantine due to COVID-19 contact tracing, according to West Carter athletic director Corey Gee.
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