When a chance to clinch another MIAA championship came down to a penalty kick on Monday against Northeastern State, there was no doubt in Fort Hays State coach Brett Parker’s mind who was going to take it.
Thanks to a little bit of foreshadowing the day before in practice, Parker knew that Germany native Moritz Walther was the guy best suited for the moment.
“I’ve never called a penalty in practice, probably in my life, and I called one yesterday,” Parker said. “(Leading soccer) Santiago (Agudelo) has missed two this year, so it was kind of someone else’s turn to step up.
“The first thing I said was, 'Germans don’t miss penalties.' Mo stepped up in training yesterday and buried it, and I was confident he’d do it again today.”
And Walther did just that, only with a lot more at stake.
After FHSU’s Sergio Villalba was fouled in the box in overtime of a scoreless match, Walther converted the penalty kick at the 92:22 mark of the match to send the No. 14 Tigers to a 1-0 victory over No. 17 NSU at FHSU Soccer Stadium, wrapping up a second straight MIAA championship.
Walther, a 6-foot-4 sophomore midfielder, slipped it past NSU goalkeeper Thomas Saleb to notch his second goal of the season.
“Just score it,” Walther said of his thinking in the moment. “If you score it, you win the championship. I had one yesterday in practice that I scored. I knew if we would get a PK today that I would take it today, so I was pretty comfortable.”
Villalba, a senior defender, helped give Walther the opportunity after being shoved down while making a run down the left side into the box.
“It just happened,” Villalba said. “With team playing, it happened. I just saw the ball, went for it, got a touch and he got me from behind.
“I completely trust (Walther), so I knew he was going to score it.”
It was an exhilarating way to seal the MIAA title for the Tigers, who improved to 6-0 in the MIAA and 11-2-1 overall.
“Traditionally in this league, there’s a lot of high-end teams that are top 15, top 20 teams,” Parker said. “It took us seven years to win the first one (last year), so we knew how hard it is to have the consistency day in, day out against some really, really good teams.
“It’s very difficult to do. And to do it with two games to spare, I’m pretty proud of that.”
The Tigers dominated in scoring chances, outshooting NSU by a staggering 15 to 1 margin.
“It was complete domination this game,” Villalba said. “We just couldn’t score the first two halves, but we did it.”
“I mean, it was frustrating,” Walther added, “but we were still comfortable that we were going to score. We know what we are able to do, so we were pretty confident that we were going to win this game. Doesn’t matter how long it takes.”
With the Tigers and RiverHawks among the top scoring teams in the country, Parker said it was bit of a surprise to see a stalemate for most of the game.
“They came out with some different tactics from the first time we played them,” Parker said. “They did a very, very good job. They frustrated us a little bit, they were organized. But we only gave up one shot the entire game, none in the second half.
“Sometimes that's how the game goes. I think we’re No. 2 and No. 3 in the country in scoring, and you’d think you’d be in for a shootout. But it was a game you’d expect this time of year — tight on both ends. But I thought we did enough to get the win.”
Fernando Pina recored the shutout to move to 5-0-1 on the season in goal for the Tigers.
Parker said winning the MIAA championship crosses off the Tigers’ first item on its checklist for season goals.
“I think for anybody the first goal has to be to win your conference, but we certainly have bigger aspirations to break through with things we’ve never done in the program," he said. “We have to continue to play well the last three weeks of the regular season. Hopefully if we do that, we’ll host the regional, and you want to have a chance on your home field to win two games to go to the Final Four.”