EAST CHICAGO — Sam Fiera waited patiently on the sidelines through 80 minutes of regulation soccer on Saturday afternoon.
The Lake Central junior then bided his time through 14 minutes of overtime soccer. The forward then watched as his teammates buried penalty kicks that ultimately decided nothing after five rounds of a shootout.
Finally, when Fiera’s moment arrived, the junior reserve looked into Jereme Rainwater’s eyes and told the Lake Central coach everything he needed to in one moment.
Fiera blasted a penalty kick past Morton keeper David Figueroa to send the Indians to their 15th straight sectional title as Lake Central bested the Governors 6-5 in a penalty-kick shootout after 94 scoreless minutes of soccer in Saturday’s Class 3A sectional championship match at E.C. Central.
Fiera didn’t see the field once during the game and it wasn’t until the first wave of penalty kicks was complete that the junior had his chance to shine.
“It was between me and (Cuahutem Rodriguez) and Coach held us both together and asked who wanted the shot,” Fiera said. “I told him, ‘I want this one.’”
“I was begging the guys on the sideline (to take the shot),” Rainwater joked. “Sam had this look in his eyes. He asked me to trust him on this. Sam is an absolute finisher. I knew he could handle it.”
That the match came down to penalty kicks was both a thrilling conclusion to a superb match, and a gut punch for a Morton squad that entered the sectional championship match undefeated. Both teams battled swirling winds throughout the game, a driving rain in the second half, and relentless defensive pressure from one another at every turn.
“Nobody wants (penalty kicks),” Morton coach Chris Jagadich said. “We didn’t want them, I’m sure if you asked Lake Central, they didn’t want them. I wish we could’ve played all night until one of us scored, but those are the rules.”
Figueroa and Lake Central keeper Noah Osearo each had six saves during the match, with perhaps the finest coming when Osearo came beyond midfield on a restart in the 78th minute and blasted a shot from 40 yards out that Figueroa punched in the air just before it crossed into the net.
"In the 15 that we’ve won, I can’t remember a championship game like that,” Rainwater said. “Hats off to Morton and to those kids. We played a legitimately undefeated team and the game could’ve gone the either way. They could’ve won this and then we’re having a different conversation.”
After going scoreless for 94 minutes of action, neither team could seemingly miss in the shootout. Tied 5-5 at the end of the first wave of shooters, Morton’s Alexis Cantero stepped to the line and pushed the ball just wide left. Cantero was frozen in place for a moment before Fiera made his way to the box.
“I’ve really never missed a penalty kick before,” Fiera said. “It’s the only thing that I have confidence in. We’ve been practicing PKs since the beginning of the year. I’m always No. 6, so I’ve been practicing along with those guys.”
The Indians (12-2-2) will advance to take on Crown Point in the Class 3A regional semifinals at Merrillville. The Bulldogs also advanced via penalty kicks on Saturday afternoon. The Governors (17-1-2) came just one shot short of their chance to win the first boys soccer sectional title in school history.
“It’s very difficult, especially for our seniors,” Jagadich said. “We told them that everyone loses their final game unless you win a state title. It’s a tough feeling for everyone.”