EVANS - Heritage was two and a half minutes from heading to overtime with the No. 4 team in the state Friday. But after a game’s worth of missed chances and great saves by Conner Domaleski, the visiting Patriots finally ran out of luck.
Mekhi Honore beat Domaleski with a header with 2:25 left to play, leading Greenbrier to a 1-0 victory in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals at Richard Woods Park.
While Greenbrier (14-1) moves on to next week’s state semifinals, Heritage’s finest season since 2003 ended at 14-6.
“I can’t be more proud of them,” Heritage coach Brandon Stewart said of his team, which came up short in trying to win three consecutive road playoff games. “Our young team couldn’t make it the 80 minutes, we made it 77. I’m proud of them.”
Domaleski, a sophomore who earlier in the day had been named to the Region 8-AAAAA first team, nearly single-handedly kept the game scoreless. The keeper stymied Honore, also a sophomore, with a diving kick-save 47 seconds into the second half. Domaleski came up with three more beautiful saves-knocking away Logan Tihey’s chance at the 33:38 mark; diving to save Taylor Peterson’s shot with 28:47 to go, and after a Greenbrier free kick, Domaleski made another diving stop of an Alex Mejia shot at the 24-minute mark.
“He kept us in the game, it could’ve been three or four to nothing,” Stewart said of Domaleski. “Big recovery game for him.”
Honore broke through after that, taking a long pass and turning it into the goal that sent Greenbrier back to the state final four for the second time in three seasons.
“They’re bigger, faster, stronger, they’re the number four team in the state,” Stewart said of Greenbrier.
Greenbrier out-played Heritage during the opening half, but despite several good looks, in particular for Peterson, the host Wolfpack couldn’t snap a scoreless tie.
Peterson came up with a half-dozen chances during the first 40 minutes, including a shot from about 30 yards that Domaleski saved with just over nine minutes to play.
Peterson had another shot tipped away by Domaleski at the 23:44 mark, then didn’t have complete control of the ball two and a half minutes later and was high with a shot. He also had three other balls go wide of the net or scooped up by Domaleski. The Patriots’ keeper was at his best with around 20 minutes to go in the half when he saved Daniel Baylor’s shot, then Myles Duncan tried to score on the rebound and Domaleski dove on the ball and covered up to keep it a 0-0 game.
Heritage didn’t have many close looks at all during the opening-half, but its best chance came at the 19-minute mark after Tihey was whistled for a hand ball. That set up a free kick and Austin Kulp’s shot was saved easily by keeper Connor Washer.
Edder Mendez, who scored the game-winning goal in the Patriots’ second-round win over Creekview, was wide about 10 minutes into the game. Later, Kulp was high with a shot at the six-minute mark and Luis Aliva had Heritage’s only second-half shot on goal with 14 1/2 minutes left.
Despite the tough loss Friday, the Patriots reached the Elite 8 for the first time since the 2002-2003 squad not only shared the Class AAAA state title with Dalton, but capped a four-year stretch that included four consecutive finals appearances. The current group may be headed towards a similar run as Kulp, a Tusculum College (Tennessee) signee, is the only significant loss and the other 10 Heritage starters return in 2015.
“Hell of a season,” said Stewart. “This is going to play dividends for next year.”