Sundays box score will indicate Marc Ybarra netted the game-winning goal for the Michigan men’s soccer team in its 1-0 penalty shootout victory over Wright State. 

Technically, he did. It was Ybarra who blasted the Wolverines’ fifth penalty kick into the right corner of the net, commencing a field-storming celebration and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. 

Owen Finnerty, though, made the heroics possible in the first place. 

As Raiders’ midfielder Harvey Slade readied for his team’s third penalty kick, Finnerty stood 12 yards away from the penalty spot on his goalline, swaying back-and-forth. Slade launched the ball to Finnerty’s left, and the freshman goalkeeper pushed himself off the ground, launching his outstretched body into the air. Striking a Superman pose, Finnerty punched the ball away for the save. 

Out of the 10 penalties taken between both teams, Slade’s was the only not to reach the back of the net. 

“The difference in the game is that missed PK,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “Owen Finnerty, he read all five, dove the right way.”

The pressure on goalkeepers during penalty kicks appears to be back-breaking. Though they are always the last line of defense, that pressure is magnified in penalties with the game — and on Sunday, the season firmly on the line.  

Finnerty, with just five career starts entering Sunday, was able to rise to the occasion. 

“I think you just have to have a confident mindset,” Finnerty said. “Confidence wins there. You have to make the forward feel like you’re on top of them and to make sure that you’re dominant, getting the fans behind you and making him feel like he’s under pressure.”

Just last Sunday against Indiana, Finnerty and Michigan were on the wrong side of the same situation, losing, 4-3, in penalty kicks in the Big Ten Tournament final. On the game-winning kick, Finnerty dove the right way, yet failed to get a hand on the ball. 

This time, he did. 

Finnerty dove in the correct direction for four of Wright State’s five penalty kicks. Luck played less of a factor in this than one might think. 

“It’s a lot of research on penalties, looking at videos on where they’ve gone in the past,” Finnerty said. “They’ve taken a lot of penalties this year. I just kind of had a hunch for it.”

While Finnerty was the center of attention during the penalties, he was much less in the limelight during the 110 minutes of gameplay, forced to make just three saves. Michigan’s defense held steady all game, a formidable and swarming wall of protection even as its offense sputtered and stalled. 

The defensive shutout for the Wolverines is all the more impressive when considering the absence of senior defenseman Jackson Ragen. Ragen, a back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection, missed the contest due to an injury suffered against Indiana. Without Ragen, junior defenseman Joel Harrison slid over to center back, while freshman defenseman Carter Payne drew the start at right back. 

Payne had not appeared in a game since a 12-minute appearance against Western Michigan on Oct. 17. Despite being matched up against Wright State’s leading goal-scorer in midfielder Deri Corfe, Payne held his own. 

(Corfe) is a special player, Daley said. And for Carter, who hasnt played in about a month, to jump in and compete against him, I thought it was really great. Carter got stronger as the game went on.

In the end, limiting a Wright State attack without Ragen proved to be a challenge the defense, and Finnerty, were ready for.

“We were confident we could keep that clean sheet today,” Ybarra said.

During regulation, the suffocating defensive effort ensured the clean sheet by keeping Wright State off the scoreboard. In penalties, it was Finnertys stellar performance that sealed the victory. 

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