Wildcats soccer takes MP to shootout

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Mar. 6, 2007 - Mount Pleasant players were celebrating an almost certain district soccer championship on Monday, but the Sulphur Springs Wildcats took a step closer to a playoff berth as well.

Mount Pleasant ended up beating the Wildcats, 5-2, in a shootout at Gerald Prim Stadium, but the one point the Wildcats earned by forging a 2-2 regulation tie with MP could very well be the deciding factor on whether or not SSHS makes the playoffs.

The Wildcats (5-2-1-2 in District 16-4A) dropped back into fourth place with 19 points. They trail Mount Pleasant (28 points), Pleasant Grove (23) and Paris (20).

The Wildcats also earned a point against MP the first time the two teams played.

"Those two points could definitely make the difference," said SSHS head coach Andy Holt. "There's still four games to be played. We've still got to play North Lamar and Pittsburg, two games that were battles for us the first time around. We've got to take care of our end, and that's all we can worry about right now."

With MP having all but sewn up a playoff berth with four games remaining, it leaves three teams for the final two playoff spots. Of the three teams, Sulphur Springs has the easiest remaining schedule, playing the last four teams in the standings.

Pleasant Grove must still play Mount Pleasant, and then Paris and Pleasant Grove face each other on March 19 in the season finale.

If the Wildcats play their remaining games with the intensity and energy they showed on Monday, they'll be in good shape.

Each team led briefly in the first half, but the other team tied the game each time less than two minutes later. Then, the final 52 minutes were scoreless but certainly not boring.

"I thought our guys played their guts out tonight," Holt said. "They played very hard. It was a physical match. They didn't give it to us, that's for sure. Those guys are physical and skilled.

"But, our guys stood up to the challenge. In the first half, I thought they dominated in the air, and in the second half, we came out and started winning headers and that definitely relieved some pressure off us in the back. We didn't back down. Our guys stepped up and got after it."

Mount Pleasant was clearly the aggressor early, taking four shots on goal before the Wildcats were able to finally get a shot off more than eight minutes into the match.

But, it was the Wildcats who took the early lead when Cole Lancaster knocked in a header off a throw-in by Graham Northcutt. The ball hit the top rail and ricocheted into the net at the 26:59 mark.

But, Mount Pleasant came back at 25:04 with a tying goal when Omar Gutierrez had a free kick from 25 yards out. He quickly got set and then sent a booming shot past the diving hands of SSHS keeper Mario Arellano.

MP took a 2-1 lead at 12:55 when Enrique Rodriguez centered a shot from 12 yards out.

It took the Wildcats less than a minute to answer, though, as Rolando Larios got onto a loose ball after Mount Pleasant unsuccessfully tried to clear a throw-in. Larios dribbled briefly to his left, then slid the ball past the keeper to tie the game at 2-2 with 12:01 left in the first half.

Mount Pleasant's best chance to untie the game came with time running out in the half when they took a direct kick from the top of the 6-yard box, but it was blocked by a line of SSHS defenders and cleared out.

Sulphur Springs' best chances came in the first seven minutes of the second half with two near-misses on headers.

Defensively, Graham Northcutt and Jon Holt played strong, physical games and were aided by Chad Rocker and Jesus Torres.

"That's twice now we've tied the district champs," Holt said. "That tells me we can play if we go out and do it every game.

"We've had some breakdowns during the season, and we need that consistency, but I thought our guys played great tonight. I was proud of them and proud of the way they played."

In the shootout, MP took a 1-0 lead on the first kicker when Gutierrez sent a shot into the right corner. Sulphur Springs failed on its first three chances, while MP got goals from Jesus Garcia and Noe Avilla.

Notes: The Wildcats will travel to Texas High on Saturday for their next game. ... Sweeper Tate Ramirez had to sit out due to a soft red in the Wildcats' last game. ... The SSHS girls travel to MP tonight for a district game.

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