Nikic of time: Senior sends Beacon to second title in penalty kicks
By ZACH BRAZILLER
Last Updated: 1:46 PM, November 15, 2010
Clutch performers often talk about being able to block everything out in seminal moments, clearing their mind to focus on the task at hand. Joseph Nikic doesn’t subscribe to that theory.
As he stood over the ball, a championship at his feet, the senior striker thought about everything he had been through in his soccer career – the three heartbreaking postseason losses, all the strides he and his teammates have made, on an off the field, what the moment meant.
“This was the last shot of my Beacon career,” he would say later. “I had to remember everything I’ve been through to get here.”
With that in mind, Nikic added one last memory, the most memorable of them all. The Blue Demons captain played the role of hero once again, beating No. 2 Francis Lewis keeper Chris Herrera and sending fourth-seeded Beacon to its second PSAL Class A boys soccer title with a 4-3 victory in penalty kicks after 100 minutes of scoreless soccer between the two rivals. Three days after he ended four-time defending champion Martin Luther King’s season in double overtime and six days after his hat trick against John Adams, Nikic was against mobbed by teammates.
“This week has been incredible for him and he came through once again,” Beacon fullback Jesse White said. “When it comes time … he comes through in the clutch. This week exemplified that – hat trick, game winner, penalty winner.”
The win wouldn’t have been possible if not for keeper Max Brown, who was brilliant in making eight saves during regulation and again in penalty kicks, stopping Lewis (16-1-1) standouts Danny Bedoya and Nathaniel Richardson. Last year, Brown came up short in penalty kicks against Lewis.
"This year for me I had more of a strategy how I do my penalty kicks," he said. "It's been working. I don't like to share because it's kind of my thing. It worked and we came out on top."
Brown wasn’t the only one who came up short in last year’s semifinal loss to Lewis. So did his teammates, who were unable to beat Herrera.
It was the third time in as many years the Blue Demons’ season ended in the shootout, twice to Lewis and once to MLK in the 2008 title game. For the first time, coach Alec Mahrer had his players practice penalty kicks at the end of practice, just in case. Beacon (15-2-1) worked on it more during the playoffs, so there was an air of confidence after the second overtime ended with the two even sides still scoreless.
"Pick your spots and shoot it with conviction," Mahrer said he told his players. "In the back of my mind I was thinking, 'it's gotta be our year. How are we gonna lose four years in a row on penalties?'"
Gideon Ronsenthall, Ryan Cupolo and Luca Quinn followed Mahrer's suggestions and scored. It was 3-all when Nikic stepped up with the final shot of the final round. He didn't look to a side.
"Im not much of a finesse guy," he said. "I'm a power guy. I just kicked it as fast as I could."
It was a remarkably close match between the two similar sides – stout play in net, solid back lines, playmaking midfielders and speed up front. Each club had opportunities. Lewis got the better of play in the first half, Beacon the second half and the two overtimes, aided by injuries to Bedoya and Richardson.
It led to penalty kicks. Beacon handled them with aplomb. When it was over, after Nikic has buried the winner – the third straight postseason he had done so – a wild celebration ensued, one four years in the making.
“This isn’t just for us, it’s for all the guys who came up short years past, who are excellent players and are doing excellent things,” White said. “It’s for us and them.”
“We knew from day one we could do this, we knew we had the team, we knew we had the right attitude, we knew we would put in the work,” he added. “All that came to show today and came to show on Thursday. We had some ups and downs this season, but we came out on top because we’re the best team.”
© By ZACH BRAZILLER | Thursday, Nov 15, 2010 | Photo: Damion Reid | The NY Post