Pirates slip by Huskies
Jose Macias has no problem expressing his hatred of penalty kicks.
And for good reason.
The Phoenix forward missed his penalty kick attempt last year in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs, a home game the Pirates lost to eventual state runner-up Gladstone in penalty kicks.
Facing a similar situation one year later, Macias made sure this season's second-round home match against No. 6 North Marion wouldn't enter a shootout.
On a brisk Tuesday evening at U.S. Cellular Community Park, Macias scored on a free kick in the 66th minute to lead top-ranked Phoenix to a 1-0 victory.
"I hate PKs," Macias said. "Everybody was counting on me. The pressure was pretty much on me and I had to do something about it."
Macias attempted the shot from the left side of the goal after a Phoenix player was dragged down just outside the box. North Marion placed a three-defender wall between the goal and Macias, who noticed an opening once everyone was lined up.
"I saw the hole between the wall and the goal," he said. "I was going to bend it to the first post, but I saw the hole at the second post and since it's slippery, I thought it had a better chance to go in."
Macias booted the ball around the right edge of the wall and North Marion's goalkeeper seemed to pick up the trajectory of the ball too late. It sailed into the net between the late-reacting goalkeeper and the far post.
"It got a little frightening there," said Phoenix coach Dennis Flenner, whose squad advances to play at No. 2 McLoughlin Saturday in a quarterfinal.
"I think it was a good game for us to cut our teeth on and get busy."
While the offense struggled after a 10-day layoff since their final regular-season game, Pirates goalkeeper Carlos Mena was as effective as usual. The senior posted his 13th consecutive shutout for the Skyline Conference champions, who improved to 14-0 this season.
"I just don't like losing," Mena said. "That's one thing I don't do. I guess that's my motivation for not letting (goals) in."
Although Mena only snagged one save, he escaped a few tense moments, including one in the first minute of the game.
North Marion had its best chance to score approximately 30 seconds into the game when Mena mistimed his jump toward a ball lofted into the box. After Mena barely deflected the ball and stumbled to the ground, North Marion's Dylan Tyler fired a shot toward the open goal. However, the ball hit the right post and bounced toward on open space on the field, allowing Mena and the Pirates' defense to recover.
"I overjumped it," Mena said. "I was a little overexcited. I had to get the butterflies out."
The Huskies had a handful of other shots throughout the remainder of the game, but none came as close as the opening-minute attempt.
Macias' score gave Phoenix its first state playoff victory since 2006, when the Pirates reached the quarterfinals before being eliminated by McLoughlin.
After earning some second-round redemption on Tuesday, Phoenix is looking for payback Saturday at McLoughlin.
"We've been looking forward to hooking up with them," Flenner said. "It looks like it's throwdown time."
Reach reporter Shawn Miller at 776-4469, or e-mail email@example.com