ONA — The October cold wouldn’t lead anyone to think that cramps would be an issue in the boys Class AAA Region 4 Section 2 soccer semifinal at Cabell Midland Tuesday, but coaches had to turn to seldom-used bench players to finish the contest.
Huntington coach Blaine Stoll was forced to insert junior varsity player Ajay Neginhal into his lineup and the sophomore, who saw little varsity playing time during the regular season, put the winning goal into the net to lift the No. 3-seeded Highlanders to a 2-1 victory over No. 2 Hurricane.
“I was just running,” said Neginhal, who had not played varsity soccer in eight games, according to Stoll.
Senior Skyler Cyrus assisted Neginhal’s goal. Cyrus sent a cross to the far side of the goal and Neginhal ran from the far side of the field to the back post, where Cyrus’ pass was waiting for him.
“It was just a good pass,” Cyrus said of the assist. “I felt absolute happiness and joy [when the goal went in].”
It was a play that nearly didn’t happen for Huntington (8-9-4), a team that now finds itself playing for the sectional championship on Thursday at Hurricane.
Hurricane (11-2-4) took a 1-0 lead at 3:40 when Nick Eskins sent a free kick into the goal box. Highlanders’ goalkeeper Dylan Shultz went to intercept the kick, only to have Hurricane’s Jake Bock play a header into an empty net.
The Skins’ defense held the lead until the final minute of regulation. Hurricane’s defense appeared to be a step faster and it contested every Highlander pass. Then, with 20 minutes remaining in the game, Huntington changed the momentum.
“I think they realized they were 20 minutes away from their season coming to an end,” Stoll said.
Huntington began to match Hurricane’s speed and started playing with more urgency than it had in the first half. With just 28 seconds left in regulation time, Huntington senior co-captain Sal Sualle got a ball past Eskins to tie the game at 1 and send the Highlanders’ bench into an uproar.
Neither team scored in the final seconds of regulation and the game went into overtime. They battled through one overtime period before Neginhal scored the game-winning goal at 91:45.
The AAA Region 4 Section 2 championship games for boys and girls will be Thursday beginning with the boys at 6 p.m. and the girls to follow.