EASTON, Maine — One month ago, Ryan Fitzmaurice would have never guessed he would be tasked with trying to stop penalty kicks in a playoff game.
At that time, Fitzmaurice played forward for the languishing Maine School of Science and Mathematics Penguins, who had lost their first four games. But after the first-string goalkeeper left school and the backup was unable to continue playing, Fitzmaurice agreed to give the position a try.
“I hadn’t played there since middle school, but I kind of got thrown in there,” Fitzmaurice said. “I guess it worked out OK.”
The senior made several difficult saves during regulation and the two overtime periods and then saved three more during the three rounds of penalty kicks as his No. 9-ranked Penguins outlasted the eighth-ranked Easton Bears 2-1 in Friday’s Class D North preliminary match. The game was played in windy conditions, with temperatures close to 40 degrees.
Fitzmaurice is now 4-1-1 as team’s starter as MSSM advances to Tuesday’s quarterfinal matchup against Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, the undefeated and No. 1-ranked team that eliminated the Penguins in the same round last year.
The Penguins scored first against the Bears when junior Harrison Walters’ direct kick from 20 yards out bounced off the head of an Easton defender and into the top left corner of the goal less than 11 minutes into the match.
It appeared MSSM was going to take that lead into intermission, but the Bears knotted the score when junior Seth Faloon ran onto a loose ball from the left wing and ripped a shot past Fitzmaurice with just 42 seconds left in the first half.
“We had a couple mental breakdowns and that cost us the goal,” MSSM coach Jon Hamilton said, “but we learned from our mistake and moved on. We kept our heads up and powered our way through it.”
The game remained tied through the remainder of regulation and the two 15-minute overtime sessions, forcing the penalty kick tie-breaker.
The teams each made two of five attempts in the first round and both were 4-for-4 in the second round, but MSSM took round three by a 4-2 margin, clinching it on Trevor Gava’s blast past Easton goalkeeper Kody Carter.
Both Easton and MSSM managed 10 shots on goal during regulation and OT, and both Fitzmaurice and Carter collected nine saves. However, Fitzmaurice was tested a little more, including two dynamic stops in the first half (the first on a nifty no-look shot by Kooper Kinney with his back to the goal at the 15-minute mark) and another in the second half off an opportunity by Faloon from point-blank range.
“I think it helped heading into the PK round because I was all warmed up for it,” said Fitzmaurice, who credited his defense for its work throughout the match. “I was really nervous for penalty kicks, but we came out on top.”
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