SHORT GAP, W.Va. — When Frankfort midfielder Levi Sgaggero lifted a long shot from 30 yards late against Keyser on Thursday, it seemed like the prayer would wind up harmlessly in the grasp of keeper Matthew Junkins.
But the ball was struck with pinpoint accuracy, and Jenkins reacted a hair too late, as the deep strike tipped off the Golden Tornado goalkeeper’s hands to end up in the top right corner of the net to secure a 3-2 Frankfort victory.
“I’m extremely pleased and extremely proud of the way the boys fought,” Falcons head coach Patrick Brett said. “We’re a very, very young team, and these kids are playing above their age. ... The way these young kids are putting it on the field, leaving everything on the field, confident on the touch, scoring the goals — these underclassmen are just overperforming.”
Both teams came into the Mineral County matchup with a win to their names. Frankfort beat Berkeley Springs, 5-2, to open the season. Keyser dropped its first matchup 5-1 to Martinsburg but avenged the defeat with a 15-1 rout of Petersburg.
The Falcons nearly blew the game minutes after what seemed like the deciding goal. Goalkeeper Stephen Shambaugh misplayed a ball in the box, affording Golden Tornado attacker Seth Earnest one last chance with an empty net.
Senior defender Ben Nestor — the lone fourth-year player on the Frankfort roster — was there to save the day, making a sliding save to knock the ball out of bounds and preserve the victory.
Keyser was outshot by the Falcons 8-4, as it struggled to get many clean looks on goal after taking a 2-1 lead during the first half, apart from Earnest’s late attempt at an equalizer.
“I’m disappointed, really disappointed with our performance today,” Golden Tornado head coach Chris Halbritter said. “We just didn’t play to our ability. We weren’t winning any balls, we weren’t beating anybody. It just seemed like we didn’t play well at all.”
Frankfort forward Aiden Adams opened up the scoring with 26:45 left in the first half on a breakaway chipper over Junkins, who seemed to get caught in between coming up and denying the attempt and staying in net.
Then Keyser answered back with a pair of conversions. The first coming by way of a strike by Alec Stanislawczyk, who won the ball in a sea of Falcon bodies to level the score. Earnest put his team in front minutes later, this time on a well-struck boot from his left foot from the top of the box, a firm strike into the corner that left Shambaugh no chance.
Earnest, a junior, gave Frankfort fits in the open field all night.
“He’s an excellent scorer, we weren’t able to get him the ball enough today,” Halbritter said. “We weren’t really able to get our offense the ball much at all, but Seth is a really good scorer, and he’ll get plenty of opportunities to score the ball this year.”
Sgaggero struck back seconds later for his first of two goals, this time on a penalty kick, which put the score level going into halftime.
The sophomore showed superb touch and got his teammates involved throughout, something that impresses Brett given the talented young midfielder’s age. No moment, of course, was bigger than the game-winning strike well outside the box.
“Levi does have that long shot, which is why I’ve encouraged him (to take that),” Brett said. “I told him at halftime, ‘Shoot, shoot, shoot,’ because one of them will go in, and it did.”
Even after Sgaggero’s winning goal, the defense — led by Nestor — was still tasked with making one last stand. As a senior leader, Nestor didn’t let the moment get to him, as the Falcons got by Keyser for the one-goal home win.
“Ben saved the win for us, kept that goal-line clearance,” Brett said. “He had an all-around fantastic, strong game. He held the defense together, and he pretty much has to because he’s the only senior.”
Frankfort (2-0) takes on Fairmont Senior at home on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Keyser (1-2) looks to rebound against Berkeley Springs at home on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Alex Rychwalski is a sportswriter for the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.