By TAYLOR GRAFFT
The Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers soccer team returned to Panther Stadium Tuesday after losing to Vandegrift Jan. 3 and picked up two positive results.
Against the Hutto Junior Varsity team, the Panthers tied 1-1 with a goal from Garrett Cummins that was assisted by Giovanny Salazar.
The Panthers then played against the Hutto varsity squad, and during that scrimmage, the boys showed their dominance by shutting out their opponent and the team picked up its first win of the season, 3-0.
Caleb Hanson was the player of the match in the Hutto varsity scrimmage. Hanson scored twice for the Panthers and also assisted a goal scored by Omar Perez. The Liberty Hill back line was solid and finished with their first clean sheet of the season.
“It was great to get our first win behind us so that we can now focus on our consistency and win a couple games in a row,” said Head Coach Darren Bauer. “The win was an overall team victory. I felt that we played well in all aspects of the game. There were a few mistakes but we recovered well and worked hard. We focused on spreading the field and switching the ball in practice an the guys are starting to pick up on the idea and of how we need to play to be successful. It definitely showed in the game what we were working on all week and it put us over the top against Hutto. The players were excited about the win and they saw their hard work and determination pay off so hopefully that will continue.”
The Runnin’ Panthers could not overcome a strong Vandegrift attack in the Panthers’ second scrimmage of their inaugural season on Jan. 3.
Despite the team losing 5-0 to Vandegrift on Jan. 3, the boys continue to build chemistry on the pitch and hope to improve each time they play.
The Panthers looked much sharper passing the ball and controlling possession in the midfield than against Wimberley, the week prior. Their next challenge will be creating more chances on attack, especially from the wings, said Coach Bauer.
“It was definitely an improvement from Wimberley,” said Bauer. “That’s what I’m telling the guys right now. If we make a step forward every single game, eventually, especially next year, we’ll be at that top level.
“We definitely have the defense and the high pressure down,” Bauer said. “Now we just have to see improvement on our wing play when attacking. A lot of times we’re one-dimensional and the players think they can only run forward. I want our players cutting in and attacking the goal. Once we learn to cut in, we’ll start creating more goals.”
Coach Bauer saw an improvement on several other aspects of the game for the Panthers, including defensive pressure.
“We pressured the ball more,” he said. “We tackled better and got stuck in the tackles better. In the first half they played more on our end, but the second half we played more on their end. It’s definitely a step forward and the guys are starting to get it.”
The boys had a shaky first half and found themselves down 3-0 at the halftime break. In the first half, Vandegrift’s best chance came in the 32nd minute. Vandegrift won a corner and sent in a cross to the back post, which was flicked back into the middle and headed just wide right of the goal post.
Liberty Hill’s best chance in the closing minutes came in stoppage time, when AP Maare attacked down the left wing and used a few stepovers to shake the defense. Unfortunately, Maare couldn’t find his balance for a shot just outside the box and sailed the ball wide of the post.
In the second half, Vandegrift scored in the first two minutes of play. Liberty Hill’s defense was unable to clear the ball in their own half and a Vandegrift attacker connected with the loose ball and calmly finished with a shot to the bottom right corner for their fourth goal of the afternoon.
Thirteen minutes later, Vandegrift found the back of the net again after an errant back-pass by a Liberty Hill defender. The ball was picked up by a looming Vandegrift player whose shot clanked off the post on his shot attempt, but the rebound found another Vandegrift player who finished it off for the team’s fifth and final goal.
Liberty Hill’s intensity and chances picked up in the final 23 minutes of play, but unfortunately none of their efforts were rewarded with a goal.
The best chance came in the 58th minute when Maare crossed a ball into the box towards two Panther players. The Vandegrift goalkeeper read the cross well and caught it before Liberty Hill could create any danger.
The Panthers’ next chance came in the 71st minute when Omar Perez found the ball at his feet after a nice link-up with the midfield. Perez had a good turn to give himself some space, but his shot went wide right of the goal on his shot attempt.
One minute later, the Panthers were threatened again. Perez sent a header back to Lucas Rizzotto who chested the ball for his first touch and sent a hard shot towards the goalkeeper, but the Vandegrift keeper controlled the ball and made a save.
The Panthers final chance of the match came in the 77th minute when Maare was fouled and won a free kick just outside the box from about 21 yards out. Perez stepped up to take the free kick, but his low drilled shot went just wide left of the post.