Skyline’s Alex Appel preserves shutout victory

April 15, 2014

By Neil Pierson

By Neil Pierson Skyline High School’s Nate Hardwick boots the ball out of danger during the first half of the Spartans’ 1-0 win against the visiting Roosevelt Roughriders on April 7.

By Neil Pierson
Skyline High School’s Nate Hardwick boots the ball out of danger during the first half of the Spartans’ 1-0 win against the visiting Roosevelt Roughriders on April 7.

Don Braman has a conundrum most soccer coaches would love to have — three quality goalkeepers and only one starting spot.

Senior Jack O’Keefe and junior Brice Escobar are the most experienced players fighting for time, but sophomore Alex Appel has been just as good during the Skyline Spartans’ nine-game unbeaten streak to start the season.

Appel came in for the second half and made three crucial saves in the last 15 minutes, helping Skyline beat the visiting Roosevelt Roughriders, 1-0, in Class 4A KingCo Conference boys soccer action April 7.

His final save might have been his best as he climbed the ladder to get his fingertips on a drive from Roosevelt’s Jack Kussick, deflecting it over the goal just seconds before the final whistle.

“It was a good save, I guess,” Appel said. “I don’t want to make those saves — I never want to. … I’m not the tallest kid, but I like jumping. I jump rope all the time, and I do all these jumping exercises, and it helps.”

O’Keefe started the game for Skyline (6-0-3 overall, 3-0-1 conference), but saw little action in the first 40 minutes.

It was a different story for Appel in the second half, as he was forced to keep the Roughriders at bay following Armeen Badri’s penalty-kick goal in the 54th minute.

Braman said he was pleased with Appel, who has helped the Spartans record six shutouts in their first nine matches. Part of Appel’s success may stem from a competitive practice environment with O’Keefe and Escobar.

“Alex is just really happy to show off what he can do, and that’s the kind of quality we see out of him in training,” Braman said. “We know he’s capable of it. His team really needed him to come up with some big saves tonight, and he delivered when it was important.”

Skyline stayed within two points of first-place Issaquah in the KingCo standings through four matches. The district rivals will meet May 1 at Skyline.

Against Roosevelt, the Spartans dominated possession for most of the night, and had several quality scoring chances. Badri hit the crossbar 10 minutes in, while Sean Curtis, Jake Therrien, Matthew Richardson and Nick Morgan all saw their shots sail high.

In the 52nd minute, Roosevelt goalie Alex Van Zuylen made a diving stop on Fed Rubiolo’s chance, and Curtis nailed the crossbar seconds later.

Skyline’s perseverance finally paid off two minutes later. Richardson was pushed from behind for a penalty kick, and Badri easily converted into the top of the net past a flailing Van Zuylen.

Roosevelt’s players and fans complained about the call, but Braman said it may have been the result of creating so many chances.

“Sometimes it’s not given, sometimes it’s given,” he said. “Two or three other things could’ve happened, too. I really felt like we were the better team tonight, and I think we worked hard to earn opportunities and we deserved to win.”

The Spartans nearly clinched the win with a second goal, but Van Zuylen stopped Nihar Baxi on a breakaway in the 64th minute.

Instead, Appel had to keep the Roughriders off the scoreboard, something that proved difficult.

“They were playing very direct and very physical,” he said. “They complained about everything, and we just tried to keep it down, settle it down, because I know some of our players like to get chippy, especially at the end.”

Skyline outscored its opponents 12-3 during its first nine games. Leading scorer Jason Twaddle was on spring vacation and didn’t play against Roosevelt, which hampered the Spartans a bit, Braman said.

However, players like junior Nate Hardwick got increased minutes and showed they’re capable of being frequent scorers.

“He hasn’t scored a ton of goals yet, but he’s really working hard in the middle of the field and creating a lot of our scoring chances,” Braman said. “Nate’s a really important part of what we do offensively, and he continues to improve, and I just can’t wait to see him start to light up the scoreboard.”

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