Hanford's Thiel a superhero in shootouts

May 22, 2013 

Jacob Thiel, Hanford’s junior goalkeeper, was partial to Batman and Green Lantern as a young boy.

No other superhero registered on his radar until his freshman year, when the Falcons’ goalkeepers convinced Thiel to buy a Spider-Man goalie jersey to match their own.

Lately, Thiel has been doing more than just wearing the jersey. He’s doing his best to emulate the web-slinging crimefighter with his dramatic and dynamic — dare I say superhuman? — play in goal, and sometimes taking it a step further.

Sure, Spider-Man had the ability to swing from rooftops. But he wasn’t exactly psychic.

“It was right after the Kamiakin game (a 1-0 Hanford loss to end the regular season), and I told the guys I dreamed of an important game that came down to a shootout after a 1-1 tie. We made one goal (in the shootout) and I blocked all five shots,” Thiel said. “I asked them, ‘What if that really happened?’ They’re like, ‘Whatever, Thiel. That would be like you scoring a goal.’ ”

Little did he know that about three weeks later, that vision — except for a few small details — came true.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. Not in professional, club or college. Never,” Falcons’ defender and co-captin Kyle McMurrich said. “I’m still kind of in awe about it.”

After a 1-1 tie over 90 minutes in the Class 3A state quarterfinals against Kennewick on Saturday at Lampson Stadium, Thiel stopped all four Lions’ spot kicks while his teammates buried two, sending Hanford to the Final Four this weekend in Puyallup.

The Falcons (15-6) will face Bonney Lake (17-4) at 4 p.m. Friday in the 3A semifinals.

“I told them (about the dream) as a joke, but looking back I came to the realization that, ‘Oh my goodness, I really dreamed about that,’ ” Thiel said.

After the game, the Hanford fan section at Lampson Stadium chanted “Spi-der-Man, Spi-der-Man” in recognition of his amazing feat. Asked what enabled him to read all four shooters in succession, Thiel responded, “My Spidey sense.”

Maybe Stan Lee knows if he was kidding or not.

“I went to bed at 3 that night. I didn’t want to sleep, because I didn’t want to lose that feeling,” he said.

Truth be told, Thiel probably would have stopped all five if another round were necessary. Thanks to his incredible performance, it wasn’t.

“It’s an amazing feat for any goalkeeper to have four saves in a shootout,” Falcons coach Mike Pardini said. “It’s not a new thing for him. He’s always been pretty successful in shootouts. We were 3-0 going in, and now we’re 4-0, and he has 11 combined saves in those four shootouts.”

Shootouts are common at the Final Four, when equally-matched teams often fight down to the wire in low-scoring games. That’s where Thiel could give Hanford a real edge in a game that comes down to what amounts to a guessing game.

“I don’t think any team wants to go to a shootout. We want to win in regulation,” McMurrich said. “When you go to PKs, you have to choose to go left or right. When I’m taking a PK myself, I don’t really think about where I’m going, I just kind of go from there.

“But it’s amazing what he did, to guess four times in a row perfectly.”

Falcons assistant coach Chip Elfering, a former goalkeeper himself, recognized Thiel’s talent two years ago when he coached against Thiel as Southridge’s head coach. He had plenty of game, but since Hanford wasn’t winning, the confidence hadn’t been able to build.

That changed this year with Pardini’s and Elfering’s influence, which led to the Falcons’ first winning record since 2006 and first Final Four berth since 2002.

Thiel did his part, starting every game and allowing just 14 goals in 1,230 minutes during the regular season. His 0.91 goals against average and five shutouts earned him honorable mention all-Mid Columbia Conference honors. He stepped up in the playoffs, though, with a 0.78 GAA and two more shutouts in five games.

“His confidence is getting up there. That’s a big part of the game at goalkeeper, getting out and defending your territory. He’s done very well with that,” Elfering said. “He likes to play that (Spider-Man) part. He likes that jersey, and I think it gives him a mental step up.

“A lot of times we talk about not drawing attention to yourself, but if you’re going to do that you need to back it up. He proved that he can.”

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