BAILEY – Ben Liles missed a header that would have put Southern Nash ahead at the end of the first half.
He missed a wide-open crack at the goal midway through the second half.
He mishit the ball on the goal’s doorstep with merely seconds remaining in a tie game.
But Liles never stopped hustling, and as a result, those misses will be forgotten. His extra-time goal in the 89th minute gave Southern Nash a lead it did not a lose, and a Big East Conference title it had never had.
The Firebirds beat Wilson Hunt, 3-1, in the Big East Tournament final on Thursday at Southern Nash High School, the first time in school history Southern Nash won the league.
Liles’ miss from a perfect pass with only seconds remaining in regular time caused the junior to collapse with his head in his hands.
“I was killing myself over it – it just killed me to miss,” Liles said. “I wasn’t sure if we could have won in extra time, but I still had faith. I just kept going.”
Wilson Hunt (12-6-1) marked star Southern Nash midfielder Moises Gonzalez and added two stoppers to its defense, and it nearly stole the tournament title away from the Firebirds (15-4-1), who have not lost to a Big East opponent since losing to the Warriors in the 2011 final.
After the Warriors took a 1-0 lead off a rebound from a free kick in the 45th minute, Gonzalez and Southern Nash coach John Matthews made the change to move Gonzalez out wide. Coupled with a yellow card to Luis Lantigua – who had been marking Gonzalez – the Firebirds offense began to flow.
The lead held for only 14 minutes. Gonzalez beat the left back and played a cross to Liles, who headed it home for a 59th-minute equalizer.
“He’s their playmaker and a lot of their offense flows through him, but that got tougher when he went out wide,” Wilson Hunt coach Scott Summers said of Gonzalez. “He can beat any one guy one-on-one, and that’s what he did.”
Though the Warriors continued to clog the midfield, Southern Nash found a way around it. Juan Garcia’s early ball sailed over the heads of the defense, and Liles tracked it down. With only the keeper between him and a winner, Liles buried it.
“When teams (slow the pace), we always want to send it, send it, send it,” Matthews said. “Our shape wasn’t very good. When we got Moi out wide, the whole thing opened up.”
Gonzalez added the clinching goal in the second extra period.
“We made history (Thursday),” said a wide-smiling Carlos Leon, Southern Nash’s center back. “Oct. 25. We’ll always remember this day.”
Southern Nash 3
Wilson Hunt 1 (E.T.)
Goals: Ernesto Blanco (WH) 45; Ben Liles (SN) 59, 84; Moises Gonzalez (SN) 92.
Assists: Gonzalez (SN); Trey Jerman (SN); Juan Garcia (SN).