When the pressure’s at its heaviest, many athletes shrink underneath it.
But for Davis senior Kevin Barnes, the high pressure moments are the ones that he craves.
So when Wednesday afternoon’s matchup between Davis and Syracuse went to a penalty shootout, as the fifth player in the Darts’ shooting rotation Barnes knew he was likely going to be given the opportunity he desired.
After the Titans missed one of their five penalty shots, Barnes stepped up to the spot to take what could be the game-clinching penalty kick.
“Man, I love the pressure moments, so I wanted (to take) the PK, I wanted the pressure and I wanted the ball at my feet,” Barnes said. “When it’s that final shot, I’m just talking to myself like I already know it’s going in. So for me, walking up to take the kick, it was already a goal. I knew it was over.”
The confident team captain — who also scored the team’s lone goal in regulation — drilled home the penalty shot and gave Davis its sixth consecutive victory to start the season.
The Darts, who trailed for nearly 57 minutes of game time, went five for five in the penalty shootout and secured its second shootout victory this season (the other coming against Farmington).
Davis head coach Souli Phongsavath said that his team seems to perform at their best when they need to.
“We (practice penalty kicks) every day,” Phongsavath said. “The ironic thing is that when we practice them in training, we’re missing a bunch of them. So in our shootouts, the boys have stepped up and hit them in big situations.”
For much of the game, it appeared as though the Darts were about to be dealt their first defeat of the season. Thanks to an assist from teammate Ryken Hamblin in the 13th minute, Ryker Smith headed home the game’s opening goal for Syracuse, dealing Davis an early deficit.
The Titans continued to be on the front foot for the remainder of the first half and the opening minutes of the second half and prospects for another victory seemed bleak for the Darts, who couldn’t get much going in their attacking third.
Despite the lack of success in the attack, Davis continued to fight and defend as though they were the team clinging to the lead.
Finally, with just under 13 minutes left in regulation, the Darts got their breakthrough. Freshman midfielder Braxton Passey booted a corner kick into the box, where Barnes used his head to guide the ball into the back of the net and tie the game at one goal apiece.
Set piece goals had become the bread and butter for the Darts in attack, so when Phongsavath watched his team equalize on a set piece, he wasn’t surprised at all.
“That’s where we’ve got the bulk of our scoring so far this season,” Phongsavath said. “I’d say a little more than half of our goals are from set pieces right now, which is great in the sense that most teams would die to have that type of percentage, but I’d like to see us do more in the run of play.”
Despite wanting to see more goals come from other areas, Phongsavath went on to admit that he couldn’t complain with the results and that a win is a win no matter how you go about getting it.
The equalizing goal was enough to see the game through to the penalty shootout as both teams were unable to create a game-winning goal in either of the extra periods, though Syracuse did get close in the second overtime, as Jack Cook put a shot on frame that forced an impressive save from Davis goalkeeper Jude Walker.
In the end, the superiority in the penalty shootout was what it took for the Darts — who Phongsavath said were missing a couple starters in the match — to complete the hard-fought comeback victory over a squad that simply outplayed them for most of the game.
“It wasn’t our best game,” Phongsavath said. “The first half (Syracuse) took it to us, but we got the equalizer, held on in overtime and shootouts are just kind of a coin flip, so I think we’re really fortunate to get out of here with a win against a fantastic team. But at the end of the day, I’m proud of the fight we had.”
Sitting at a perfect 6-0 to start the season, Davis is off to an ideal start, but Phongsavath said that it will have to continue to work hard if they want to continue to succeed in a Region 1 that he described as a “gauntlet.”
According to Barnes, it doesn’t sound like Davis will be lacking in motivation to put in the requisite work. The senior defender said that he and his teammates are playing to avenge last year’s early exit from the 6A playoffs, where the No. 4-seeded Darts were eliminated in the quarterfinals by No. 21-seeded Fremont.
“We have a lot of boys who came back from last year and we’ve all been playing with a chip on our shoulders so far this season,” Barnes said. “It is going to take a lot for teams to beat us. If we just dig deep and stay disciplined, no lead is ever going to be safe against us.”