SEVEN SPRINGS - Spring Creek goalie Edgar Perez stepped onto his line, took a deep breath and stretched his arms out wide.
East Duplin captain Freddy Gomez approached the ball, momentarily hesitated to throw off Perez and fired a penalty-kick attempt toward the far post.
But the lengthy Perez guessed right and easily snuffed the shot.
The PK save, six minutes into the second half, preserved a two-goal lead. Gomez eventually erased East Duplin’s goose egg a few minutes later, however, the Gators escaped with a 3-1 victory their East Central 2A soccer contest Wednesday evening.
“Extremely pivotal,” SC assistant coach Jeremy Houser said of Perez’s heroics.
“Edgar deserves all the praise in the world. That save is not something easy to do. Professional goal keepers can’t save PKs like that. We’re very fortunate to have a talented goal keeper this year.”
East Duplin ramped up its intensity and consistently challenged Perez, who ended the night with five saves on seven shots. Edgar Victoriano made a brilliant cleat save on a breakaway that had drawn Perez off his line.
Spring Creek head coach Miguel Torres urged his team to remain relaxed and yelled “don’t panic” on several occasions.
Despite playing defense for most of the second half, the Gators heeded Torres’ pleas.
“The second half, they were on us,” Houser said. “Every ball that was passed to us, they were pressuring it. They pressured for at least a good 25 to 30 minutes. The fact we stayed kind of cool under pressure shows the level of dedication of our players because they’re sticking to what we’re working on at practice.”
Josue Sanchez-Inestroza, the team’s top scorer, finally silenced the Panthers in the 77th minute. Unmarked defensively, he received a pass from Jonah Velasquez-Perez and tapped it into the net.
Inestroza raised his season total to six goals.
“They played composed,” Houser said.
Spring Creek (2-2-0 overall, 2-2-0 EC) forced a turnover on the opening kickoff and methodically moved the ball around its backline. The constant switching of the field coerced the Panthers (2-3-0, 2-3-0) into burning energy as they chased the ball from side to side.
The Gators eventually found an open lane downfield and earned a corner kick barely six minutes after kickoff.
Adrian Tavrera lined up the ball as teammate and Inestroza snuck into the middle of the 6-yard box. The Panthers failed to mark the senior captain, who connected on a textbook header that sailed just inside the near post.
SC struck again midway through the first half.
The Panthers’ defense muffed a possession in the 18-yard box and Inestroza made one-touch pass to Isai Juarez, who made a perfect run down the right side. Juarez easily scored for a 2-nil advantage.
“The first half is really what Spring Creek soccer should be all about, possessing the ball, being calm under fire and not doing anything except what we’re trained to do at practice,” Houser said.
The Gators collected their third win in eight tries against the Panthers.