Panthers’ late header earns draw with Sharks

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For the Nease Panthers’ boys soccer squad, a 1-1 tie never tasted so sweet, especially with it coming on the road against the rival Ponte Vedra Sharks and keeping the Panthers’ unbeaten mark intact through four games this season.

In the 73rd minute of the 80-minute contest, sophomore Tyler Ghazanfari buried a header into the back of the net, just off the fingertips and passed the outstretched arms of a leaping Will Sheehan in goal for the Sharks.

“I got nervous when I saw him get a hand on it, but then it went in,” Ghazanfari chuckled.

It was the answer the Panthers had been looking for since going down a goal early in the contest.

“It’s huge for us to be able to fight back, it really shows the character of this team,” Nease goalie Evan Miriello said.

Ghazanfari made a nice run to the net and was on the receiving end of a beautifully placed free kick by senior Jacob True, which allowed for the golden opportunity.

“I knew they were aiming for me, so I just jumped, and it found the back of the net,” Ghazanfari said.

The entire Nease bench emptied and ran down the sideline to celebrate the goal with Ghazanfari, while the Panther faithful that made the short trip over to Ponte Vedra High roared in applause.

The Sharks had a fury of chances following the goal during the final seven minutes, including free kicks, headers and corner kicks.

Perhaps the best of those chances was one by Joey Stephens, who had a shot right in front of the goal, but Miriello stood tall as he had all night and stopped the shot for his ninth save of the night.

“My back line has been top notch this whole stretch so far,” Miriello said. “They’re not afraid to put their heart and their body on the line, and I know I couldn’t do any of it without them.”

Early on in the game, the Sharks did an excellent job of dictating the play and the result was some top-notch scoring chances, one of which, was finished off for a goal by Bobby Hitchcock in the fourth minute.

Miriello dove to his right to make the initial save on a hard shot by senior captain Mark Romano, but Hitchcock was in perfect position to knock home the rebound and put the Sharks up 1-0.

The goal was the first surrendered by the Panthers this season.

According to Romano, the mindset with the lead at halftime for the Sharks was to keep going forward, while making sure not to give up a goal.

“Sometimes, you can just try as hard as you can defensively, but there’s only so much you can do at times at the end of the day,” Romano said.

Although they were not able to get the win, Romano still likes the way things have been progressing for the team and he has high hopes for the group moving forward.

“We’ve had a good start to the season, and it’s just something we’ll have to bounce back from,” Romano said. “It’s definitely a learning experience, and something we can build from.”

Sheehan stopped five of the six shots he faced during the game for the Sharks.

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