|Wildcats soccer ends magical season in regional championship|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
April 8, 2006 - GREENVILLE - The sweetest ride ever taken by the Sulphur Springs Soccer Cats came to the most bitter end Friday night.
The Wildcats, who advanced farther in the playoffs than any team in school history, had their dream of reaching the state tournament fall one game short as they lost to arch-rival Mount Pleasant, 3-2, in the Class 4A, Region II championship at Cotton Ford Stadium.
The game turned on a remarkable, left-footed 25-yard shot by Mount Pleasant's Clint Foster, who knocked the ball into the upper right corner of the net into the face of a 30-mph wind with 15:16 to play in the match.
The Wildcats had three more shots on goal after that, but MP goal keeper Francisco Medina stopped two of them and the third went over the top rail, sending Mount Pleasant to the UIL state tournament in Round Rock on Friday.
The Wildcats ended the season with a 25-4-1 record, the most wins in school history. They were the first team in six years to win a playoff game and the only team in school history to advance four rounds deep.
Emotionally drained head coach Andy Holt said the players' disappointment of losing will give way to the acknowledgement of their accomplishments.
"I'm awfully proud of them. It's hard to get past the immediate disappointment and the immediate loss that we had, but the season as a whole is remarkable," he said. "It's a historic season - we did so many things with this team. That's what you've got to look at.
"I know you're not going to look at it today or tomorrow, but in a few days and in a few years, those guys are going to look back and realize they did something special."
The regional championship was the third time this season the two District 13-4A rivals have met, and all of the games were close, physical contests. Again on Friday, the official handed out five yellow cards (three to MP, two to SS) and called 30 penalties.
The Wildcats scored on one free kick as senior Spenser Daniel tied the game at 2-2 with 26:16 left in the second half when he drilled a shot past the diving goalie from 31 yards out.
Mount Pleasant, playing with the wind in the first half, took a 2-0 lead. Nelson Zelaya scored first in the 20th minute when he headed in a corner kick. Then MP's Marco Gutierrez added another goal with 16:05 to play in the first half when he rolled in a goal from 15 yards out.
The Wildcats, though, cut the lead to 2-1 before halftime when Cole Lancaster scored from 10 yards out. The play started when Graham Northcutt stole the ball 60 yards away and sent it ahead to Lancaster, who dribbled in on the left side and knocked the ball past the goalie with 8:50 remaining in the half.
Despite playing against the wind in the opening half, the Wildcats attacked early and had a few scoring chances. A 10-yard shot by Lancaster went wide left two minutes in to the game, and a breakaway by Daniel Santillan was stopped by MP goalie Medina when he came 10 yards off his line to smother the ball.
Medina ended the game with seven saves, including five in the second half. SSHS goalie Jeremy Potter had six saves.
The Wildcats attacked early in the second half as well. A free kick by Daniel from 23 yards out was blocked by the goalie in the first minute, then a header by the 6-2 senior three minutes later went high.
The Cats had 12 shots on goal in the second half.
After Foster put MP ahead, 3-2, the Wildcats had three more good opportunities, including a shot by Chris Rodgers inside the 18-yard box that SSHS fans wanted a hand ball call on, but never got. Then, with three minutes to play, a Wilfredo Larios shot from 30 yards out was saved. The Cats' final shot came on Daniel's free kick from 34 yards away that sailed high over the top rail with one minute to play.
Notes: The game was reminiscent of the last time SSHS and MP met in the regional finals. That came in the football playoffs in December 1995, when a cold north wind dropped the temperature to below freezing at Mesquite Memorial Stadium. Mount Pleasant came away with a 13-8 win on that day.
... The Wildcats were bolstered by up to a thousand fans who showed up to encourage the team.
... Mount Pleasant has made the most of its second chance in the playoffs. The Tigers were beaten in the bi-district round by Wylie, but the Pirates had to forfeit the game for using an ineligible player.