With an undefeated season on the line, its starting goalkeeper out sick and several key players hurt, the Mission Prep boys soccer team needed someone to step up against Morro Bay.
Neal Hetzel delivered.
After a shaky opening 10 minutes, the Royals (16-0) took control of the game and, on the strength of Hetzel’s hat trick, beat Morro Bay 6-0 on Tuesday in San Luis Obispo.
Jesse Andreini — having never played goalkeeper at any level — replaced Joey Miller, who has given up just seven goals all season.
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After Morro Bay’s Jack Benedict shot from 20 yards out whistled just over Andreini’s arm and the crossbar in the seventh minute, the Royals bench implored its players to get their heads into the game.
“It’s been kind of slow in the beginning,” Hetzel said. “It just takes a while to get going but once we do we get on a roll the rest of the game.”
Just moments after the Pirates’ near miss, Mission Prep struck on a counter, and Sean Robinson scored the first of his two goals to give the Royals the lead.
“Once we get one (goal) we settle in and we go from there,” Mission Prep coach Bob Galarneau said. “Once we figure it out, and it’s something we can consistently apply, we’re able to break down defenses.”
After Hetzel’s first goal gave Mission Prep a two-score lead, Morro Bay (5-6-3) made a crucial mistake that let the Royals put the game out of reach.
With just over a minute remaining in the half, Pirates goalkeeper Gordon Jamison walked the ball out of the box and was called for a foul. He then booted the ball away and was given a yellow card. Mission Prep was awarded a free kick from just a foot outside the box.
“Patrick Foran (faked the shot) and the wall parted like the Red Sea and I just came right behind him,” Hetzel said.
Hetzel’s shot went through the wall and into the bottom left corner of the net to give Mission Prep a commanding 3-0 lead.
“It was the clincher,” Galarneau said. “I said, ‘if we get one more goal before the half, this game’s over.’ ”
Andreini remained untested through the first half. He didn’t need to make his first official save until the 52nd minute.
But did the Royals feel any extra pressure to keep the ball away from their first- time goalkeeper?
“A little bit,” Hetzel admitted. “But I think we were confident in the way we’ve been playing lately. He’s an athlete so we knew he’d be fine back there.”
Galarneau said he received a text message from Miller on Monday saying he might not have be able to play, and with no backup in place, he scrambled to get one of his best athletes in position to play.
“I told him, ‘You’ve got a good defense in front of you. Just let those guys do their job and when you see the ball just track it into your hands,’ ” Galarneau said.
Foran picked up a goal eight minutes into the second half before Hetzel completed his hat trick just four minutes later.
But it was a non-goal from Hetzel that had the crowd buzzing late.
With a five-goal lead and less than 15 minutes remaining, Hetzel attempted a back-heel flick that almost resulted in Mission Prep’s sixth goal.
“Neal is one of our more creative players,” Galarneau said. “He’ll get cheeky out there. The back heel, if we had scored off that it would have been the talk (of the town).”