ALLEN — As the Allen and Keller boys promptly funneled through the first eight reps of their regional semifinal shootout on Tuesday, Eagles junior Matthew Sanchez was a bit more patient as he made his walk up to the penalty mark.
Chalk it up to the weight of the moment or just a straightforward thought process, but Sanchez was in no rush as he prepared for a kick that had a spot in the regional finals riding on the outcome.
“It’s always mentality. You’ve got all these people out here on a Tuesday night and you’ve got to do it for them,” Sanchez said. “We put in the effort all year and it all comes back to an adrenaline rush. You look up, look one way and go the next.”
All the while, Sanchez calmed placed the ball, took a few steps back, wiped his brow and uncorked a laser that snuck just inside the left post to clinch a 2-1 victory for Allen (5-3 in penalty kicks) over Keller in the Region I-6A semifinals.
As the celebrations ensued, the Eagles punched their ticket to the regional finals for the first time since 1993 — the program’s deepest-ever playoff run.
“It’s special for us right now in athletics. We need someone to make a run at Allen and the guys are taking on that challenge,” said Kim Fullerton, Allen head coach. “Their motto is, ‘For the village,’ and they’re doing this for all of Allen. Winning 10 straight games at this time is year is hard to do … but the guys gritted and fought against a really good Keller team.”
Tuesday’s win doubled as the Eagles’ first shootout of the season — an occasion they rose to collectively by going a perfect 5-for-5 on penalty kicks. That consistency manifested in more ways than one, as all five of Allen’s shooters — junior Ayden Mendoza, senior Bryan Vallejo, senior Sam Presser, senior David Sajdak and Sanchez — aimed their shots left.
“At this point in time, it’s about whoever feels like taking the kicks and letting them take it,” Fullerton said. “We have talented guys and I let our captains decide. They came through. I knew whatever happened we were winning this game tonight.”
Keller countered with penalty kick conversions from Andrew Sanchez, Paolo Camilot and Ian Wiechers. Allen was afforded some breathing room after the Indians’ second attempt when Conner Lisenbee sent a ball off the crossbar.
Lisenbee, coincidentally enough, was the only player on the Indians who had a chance prior to get in a rhythm in a shootout situation against Allen senior goalkeeper Jackson Leavitt. The forward accounted for Keller’s lone goal in regulation after converting a penalty kick in the 15th minute for a 1-0 lead.
A miscommunication on the back line allowed Keller’s Jake Musgrave to sneak past the Allen defense for a one-on-one chance with Leavitt, only to be tripped by a nearby Eagle that resulted in a foul.
Fifteen minutes later, Allen netted its equalizer thanks to some nifty ball-work by Presser, who weaved through the Keller defense before firing a low shot that finished inside the left post to draw the sides even at 1-1.
“Sam Presser is a special player. He’s probably scored more than 30 goals this season and he knew he’d get at least one tonight,” Fullerton said. “All season long, he kept working and kept pushing. We love him and we’re lucky to have him.”
That gridlock remained for the duration of regulation plus two 10-minute overtimes to set up the shootout. Allen mustered only one other shot on goal following Presser’s strike — a header by Mendoza off a Vallejo corner kick — but struggled to generate anything else on frame against an aggressive Keller defense. It was the first time since Allen’s last loss, a 1-0 setback to McKinney Boyd on March 1, that the Eagles failed to score multiple goals in a match.
“Keller is a very good team and we knew they would be the toughest team we had played in the playoffs. That’s a really good, talented team and we were lucky to come out with the win,” Fullerton said.
The Indians, meanwhile, manufactured three more shots on goal for Lisenbee during regulation, including a look deep in the box that Leavitt kick-saved in the 74th minute to keep the match tied at one goal apiece. Tuesday’s win extended Allen’s streak to holding opponents to one goal or less to 11 matches in a row.
Their reward is the program’s first regional finals berth in nearly 30 years and a meeting with surging El Paso Eastlake, which thumped Jesuit on Tuesday 4-1, at a time and place to be determined. The Falcons are undefeated at 17-0 and have scored at least four goals in their past 14 matches.