EAST STROUDSBURG - It was not how they wanted their senior season to end.
Coming into this season, it had been three years since the Pleasant Valley boys' soccer team had won a Mountain Valley Conference title. That meant this year's group of seniors were the only group since 2000 to not win a conference crown.
The Bears had to be feeling good about their chances in Thursday night's MVC championship game since they were undefeated in conference play. However, with one kick of the ball, their run was cut abruptly short.
The top two teams in the conference played 110 minutes of scoreless ball before they were forced to go to penalty kicks. Even then, it wouldn't be until the 16th kicker that the game was decided. East goalie Josh Lee turned away Adam Werkheiser the Bears' eighth kicker and gave his Cardinals their first MVC championship since 1997.
"It was a pretty even match tonight," said a dejected Chris Pachuta, Pleasant Valley's head coach. "Both teams had opportunities and it went back and forth. There wasn't anything major since we both sat back at times. Both teams played their hearts out.
"It was almost anti-climatic to go to penalty kicks. Once it gets there, anything can happen."
East controlled play for the first 20 minutes of the game, but watched as Pleasant Valley came alive and applied pressure for the remainder of the half. The Bears held a 6-2 shot advantage at the break.
The second half was much of the same, with the Bears slightly out-shooting the Cardinals, 3-2. Overtime proved to be a toss up as well. While Pleasant Valley out-played East in the first overtime period by ripping off four shots, the Cardinals went on the offensive in the second overtime and recorded three corners and two shots.
Nearly two hours later, the champion had yet to be decided.
Matt Schenke began the kicks with a goal for the Cardinals. After Lee stopped Alex Mansour's attempt, the East fans began to cheer. But it was still a long way from being over.
Dominique Haynes and Tyler Michlik traded goals and left the Bears down one. That was when Pleasant Valley's AJ Werkheiser made his first save and turned away the Cardinals' Stephen Yarosh. The Bears' scoring leader on the year, Malik Krcic, stepped up big and tied things up a kick later.
Each team would score on their next two kicks. Shane Steckel and Mike Marin converted for East, while Mike Masullo and Ricky Forte scored for Pleasant Valley. Forte showed no fear as the Bears' last hope and fired the ball to Lee's left for the goal.
With the game still tied after five attempts, the teams would alternate single shots until the tie was broken. East's Dave Maloney stepped up and drilled his kick, forcing the Bears' Jack Wathen to match. Wathen did just that and put it home for the tie.
Both team's next kicker would miss. Jadon Plant missed an opportunity to win the game for the Bears by sending his shot over the crossbar.
East's eighth kicker, Aadil Mendez scored on his attempt and put all of the pressure on Pleasant Valley's Adam Werkheiser. Werkheiser went low to the right, but was stopped by a diving Lee to end the game.
"Penalty kicks are a good part of the game," said Pachuta. "It is fun to be in. As a player you love it. That is what you dream about.
"But as a coach it is tough. You just try to make sure you pick the right kids. That's what it comes down to. That the kid has an opportunity and can hit a ball and then see what happens. I am confident in all our guys. It's just a matter of trying to find the order and getting lucky. Anything can happen once it gets to that point."
Despite finishing the regular season 18-2, the Bears will need some time to get over the loss before they turn their attention to districts.
"This is going to take some time," admitted Pachuta. "We are going to give them some time. This was their goal. This is all these kids wanted. So, when they get their minds right. Saturday we will have a little walk through and hang out and just go from there."