PANAMA CITY BEACH — Making his first-ever start on the varsity squad, Matt Baumgartner simply wanted to contribute.
Did he ever.
The Rutherford ninth-grader posted a hat trick Tuesday night, notching the game-winning golden goal in overtime to lift the Rams to a stunning 3-2 win over Arnold in a District 2-3A semifinal soccer game at the Mike Gavlak Sports Complex.
The victory propelled the Rams (8-4-4) into the district title game at Choctawhatchee on Friday at 7 p.m. Rutherford also is assured a spot in regionals beginning next Wednesday. Arnold’s season ended at 7-7-1.
The game featured uplifting twists and gut-wrenching turns for both teams, particularly in the late stages of regulation and in overtime. Case in point, Baumgartner had a chance to net his third goal and potentially end the game on a penalty kick in overtime only to have his shot turned away by Arnold goalkeeper Trevor Jacquay.
Rutherford retained possession, however, when the ball rolled out of bounds and set up a corner kick. Rutherford’s Aldo Gomez delivered the ball into the box, where Baumgartner was positioned to stretch out his leg and redirect the ball into Arnold’s net for the game-winner.
“It takes practice, and you try to find the right places to get into,” Baumgartner said. “It comes from experience.”
The Marlins seized a 1-0 lead in the game’s eighth minute on a skillful free kick off the foot of Austin Masker. Quinn Schoppe earned a foul when he was tackled just outside the 18-yard box, and Masker curled the free kick over a wall of Ram defenders and just inside the left post.
That lead held up until Baumgartner evened the score in the 22nd minute. Eric Riley fired a shot on goal, and Baumgartner swooped in to hammer the rebound into the back of the net.
Riley also contributed on Baumgartner’s go-ahead goal in the 75th minute when he delivered a perfect pass to Drew Wyllie, giving his teammate enough space to cross the ball toward the face of the goal. The ball landed at Baumgartner’s feet, and the freshman knocked it in for a 2-1 advantage.
“He’s a phenomenal player,” said Wyllie, a senior. “He has natural talent, and he works really hard. He did what we needed him to do.”
Rutherford coach Michael Brown said Baumgartner started in place of Cesar Jurado, who is nursing a hamstring injury.
“That was quite a game for his first start as a ninth-grader,” Brown said.
Rutherford appeared to be moments from celebrating a win when a sideline official blew his whistle. That official had a brief meeting on the field with another official, and they determined that an Arnold player was tripped inside the 18-yard box and awarded the Marlins a penalty kick. Brown was outraged by the call, and he voiced his displeasure until he was issued a yellow card.
Masker placed the penalty kick inside the right post to tie the game at 2-2 and start a raucous celebration near the Marlins’ bench.
The teams’ emotional rides continued in overtime. Gomez was tackled inside the box, and the Rams were given a penalty kick. Jacquay made a brilliant save on Baumgartner’s attempt by diving to his right, much to the Rams’ dismay. However, Baumgartner’s heroics ultimately were delayed just a few moments.