ROYSE CITY – Overtime had not been kind to the Sulphur Springs Wildcat when playing Highland Park in the soccer playoffs the last two years. So, Friday night, the Wildcats didn’t let it get that far.
Sulphur Springs milked a one-goal advantage for 87 of the match’s 90 minutes to beat Highland Park, 2-1, in the sectional round of the Class 4A playoffs and gain a measure of revenge for getting knocked out of the postseason the last two years by the Scots.
The physical game was decided by two goals from senior standout Tony Bravo and a gutsy effort by a defensive line led by goalkeeper Moises Torres and defenders Erick Robles and Nazario Arellano.
“The kids battled,” said SSHS head coach Andy Holt, whose team improved its record to 20-3-5. “We knew it was going to be a physical game. It has been the last few years in the playoffs. Highland Park has big, strong physical kids and we knew it was going to be a physical match-up. I thought our kids worked hard, played hard and got after it.”
Their reward was a third-round playoff win – matching the most in a postseason originally set by the 2006 squad – and a regional quarterfinal date with Mesquite Poteet, coached by SSHS graduate Colby Peek, at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday at Lindale.
The fashionably late-arriving Highland Park crowd had not even settled into their seats before the Scots were behind 1-0.
Bravo, whose two goals padded his career school record to 77, powered a shot from the right side from 10 yards out just 1 minute, 16 seconds into the match. The goal was set up on a header from Brian De La Rosa following a throw-in from Fernando Santillan.
Just like that, the Wildcats had a one-goal lead they would keep until midway through the second period.
“I’ll take that one-goal lead, especially early in the game when we got it,” Holt said. “We said we needed to get on top early, and that’s what we did.”
While the back defensive line of Robles, Arellano and Juan Gomez, aided by midfielders Tanner Ramirez, Caleb Brown, Uriel Gutierrez, Alex Torres, Jose Garcia and Santillan, kept Highland Park from finding the net in the first half, it was the work of keeper Moises Torres that ultimately provided the first-half shutout. Torres had a punch save on a corner kick at the 2:20 mark, then 70 seconds later as the first half was winding down, smothered a shot on a 34-yard free kick.
“Moises made two great saves in the first half,” Holt said. “He’s an emotional player, he wants to win, and you could see it in the way he plays.”
Highland Park had some chances, taking seven shots in the first half, but Torres collected four saves and Brown deflected a free kick from 29 yards out to stymie another HP offensive effort.
SSHS milked their one-goal lead until 22:26 remained in the second half when Bravo was fouled in the box. Taking a penalty kick from 12 yards out, he drilled a shot past the diving goalkeeper into the far right corner.
But, the Wildcats’ 2-0 advantage lasted less than two minutes as Highland Park’s Will Sanders headed in a corner kick at the 20:39 mark.
Once again, Sulphur Springs was left to defend a slim one-goal lead.
That became even hairier when Bravo left the game at the 18:40 mark with a right ankle injury, the same foot that has been giving him problems for a month. Then, sweeper Robles was injured with 12:41 to play. Both players eventually returned, while in the meantime, Brown and Gutierrez each deflected a shot on goal and Ramirez and Arellano each turned away a Highland Park scoring chance.
“I thought Nazario played a great game,” Holt said. “He did a good job defending and with the ball. When we were able to get him the ball, good things happened.
“Their formation gave us some fits, and they were able to do some things. But, we held strong and played smart, good defense and played discipline.”
The minutes slowly ticked off, but Sulphur Springs was able to control the ball in the final two minutes to thwart another overtime match-up with the Scots.
“The key is to survive and advance,” Holt said. “The whole idea is to survive and advance. I thought we played well at times today and did some really good things to beat a good team.”
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