NAPPANEE — With less than a minute to go in the game Tuesday night, NorthWood senior Andre DeFreitas lined up for a free-kick from about 40 yards out. This was following a penalty by a Warsaw defender, giving the Panthers a chance to score late.
NorthWood’s all-time leading scorer did just that.
DeFreitas’ shot went off the fingertips of Tiger goalie Miles Burkholder and into the back of the net with 38 seconds remaining, forcing a 1-1 tie between the No. 9 (Class 2A) Panthers and Tigers in Northern Lakes Conference action.
“Fortunate,” said NorthWood coach Brad Duerksen of getting the tie against Warsaw. “Honestly, didn’t deserve to win. They played hard; they’re a good team. It’s nice when you can make something out of nothing when you don’t have your best night. … I’m proud of the boys for battling the entire 80 (minutes). Happy to come away with a draw.”
Warsaw had taken a lead with 7:09 remaining in the contest. Sophomore Javier Enciso took advantage of an odd-man attack for the Tigers, finding the back of the net for the late tally.
“We were outnumbered up the middle,” Duerksen said. “We had two guys, they had three coming down. … They just had numbers on us, it was a quick counter and they put it away. Nice finish.”
It was the only goal that NorthWood senior Andrew Graber would allow, as he recorded nine saves in total in the game. He made a bunch of big saves throughout the night to keep the game scoreless.
“You just have to come out, close down the goal and stop the ball,” said Graber on his success in goal Tuesday. “There’s not much you can do when it happens, but when you (make a big safe), it feels really good.”
“Andrew has been solid all year,” Duerksen added. “He’s been a key to our success all season. He’s a solid player between the pipes for us. He’s not getting the shutouts he deserves, but he’s keeping us in games. When we’re not playing well on the field as you saw tonight, we’ve got somebody back there that we can completely depend on. It’s rare that he makes an error.”
Tuesday was senior night for the Panther program, as they honored its 11 seniors pregame. Graber said the moment helped fire him up for the match.
“Walking out with my parents really motivated me tonight and then also having all of my other seniors out there on the field with me,” Graber said. “With 11 of us, we’re all really tight and really close friends. Just having them on the bench and on the field really helps me and motivates me.”
Duerksen thought the rest of his team would be amped for the special night but felt the energy was a little flat in the first half. The coach thinks things didn’t get better in the second half either.
“Honestly, at the beginning of the second half, I thought (the energy) was worse,” Duerksen said. “It’s really the first time I’ve felt like we came out in the second half and weren’t as good or didn’t improve right after the halftime whistle, so that was disappointing.”
Prior to the goals being scored, both teams had golden opportunities in the second half to break the scoreless tie. NorthWood’s came when DeFreitas made a move in the box, but his right-footed shot went just wide of the net with 27:00 remaining in the game. Warsaw’s came when senior William Aguirre hit the crossbar on a shot with 15:42 left in the contest.
NorthWood (5-2-2, 1-1-2 NLC) visits Goshen (4-6, 0-3 NLC) Thursday for another conference match. After a grueling tournament over the weekend at Argos and a tough matchup against Warsaw, Duerksen will look to take it a little easier in practice Wednesday before gearing up for a contest with the RedHawks.
“It doesn’t really stop the rest of the season, so we have to work through it,” Duerksen said. “We got some guys in off the bench tonight to contribute and did a nice job there. But yeah, it’ll be a battle. Goshen is a really solid team; they’ve been playing a lot better here lately.”