|Wilfredo Larios sends Wildcats to regional title game|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
April 5, 2006 - MESQUITE - Defender Wilfredo Larios has done a lot for the Sulphur Springs Wildcats this season. On Tuesday, he finally scored a goal.
It wasn't just any goal.
Larios' blast from 25 yards out was the only score of the match as the Wildcats prevailed over Midlothian, 1-0, in the Class 4A, Region II semifinals at Mesquite Memorial Stadium.
Sulphur Springs (25-4) will advance to the regional championship game - and a chance to claim a berth in the state tournament - on Friday when they play their fiercest rival, Mount Pleasant, at a site and time to be determined.
The Wildcats' whirlwind playoff journey reached another milestone when they rode Larios' first goal of the season for the last 42 minutes, turning back a furious Midlothian offensive attack over the final half.
SSHS goal keeper Jeremy Potter made a pair of sure-handed saves in the final 12 minutes, and sweeper Brent Holly made a diving block with his head inside the 6-yard box to stop another shot as the Wildcat defense was about as good as it gets, said SSHS head coach Andy Holt.
"They started attacking in the second half. They have some good attackers and had some opportunities - luckily they missed and we came up big," Holt said. "Potter made a great save down here. Players have to make plays, and that's exactly what he did. He made a play in that situation."
Holt was talking about Potter's smothering save of a shot by Midlothians' Ricky Blassingame from 10 yards out with 12:40 to go in the game. He made another grab of a header from 15 yards out three minutes later.
In all, Potter had five second-half saves and nine in the game. The Wildcat defense - led by Holly, Larios, Graham Northcutt and Spenser Daniel - had a lot to do with the Panthers not getting any more shots on goal than they had. That was especially true over the final 20 minutes of the game when Midlothian desperately tried to get the tying goal.
"They started doing whatever they could to get back into it," Holt said. "I knew it would be defensive and physical. I knew the other team would get after it and play hard. Our guys matched their intensity and made a play when we had to make a play."
The biggest offensive play came from Larios with 2:36 to go in the first half. The Wildcats had launched three shots on goal in the previous three minutes.
Daniel won a goal kick near midfield and sent it ahead to Larios, who found an opening from 25 yards away and launched a bullet high and to the right side of the goal that went just past the lunging goalie.
Last year, Larios was one of the Wildcats' main offensive weapons. But, this year, he switched to the defensive position of fullback and hasn't taken many shots. He made that one count.
"I had space to shoot, so I just shot it," he said. "I didn't think about it. I had an open space - I saw it, I shot it."
Holt said there was more to it than that.
"Wilfredo Larios made a heck of a shot," the coach explained. "He did a great job of getting up and down that line and getting in the mix. When he does that, we can create some problems up top."
The Wildcats took 20 shots on goal, including a header by Daniel 10 minutes into the game that actually went into the net, but was disallowed because it had hit the cross bar on the football goal post above the net before ricocheting in.
A large Sulphur Springs crowd kept the atmosphere boisterous, especially when the Cats were finally able to clear the ball into their offensive end for the final half-minute.
"They were pressuring a lot. They were pressing a lot harder in the second half," Larios said. "But, we were able to stop them, and that's all that matters."
That sets up a third match-up with District 13-4A rival Mount Pleasant, who beat Dallas Thomas Jefferson, 2-0, in the opening game of the playoff doubleheader. Sulphur Springs won the first game with MP, 2-0, but the Tigers won the second round in a shootout.
The district title has come down to those two teams the last four years, but this is the first time they will meet in the playoffs. Mount Pleasant actually lost its first round game to Wylie, but the Pirates had to forfeit the victory for using an ineligible player.
Sulphur Springs has never been this far in the playoffs, and now the Wildcats are just one step away from the state tournament.
The two teams were expected to flip for home field for the Region II championship game, but Mount Pleasant has a track meet scheduled for its field on Friday. So, other possible sites are Greenville, Mesquite and Longview.
"The mood is to take one game at a time," Holt said. "We just want to focus on one game - now we can focus on Mount Pleasant."