Boys fall to Taylor in area round
By Lance Catchings
JARRELL — The Liberty Hill boys’ soccer team (18-3-3) ended its season in the area playoff round Tuesday night with a 2-1 loss to Taylor (17-5-3). The duration of the contest was high-speed and physical as both teams were quite familiar with each other. Last season, Taylor and Liberty Hill were in the same district, and earlier this season the Panthers defeated the Ducks 3-2.
Liberty Hill took an early 1-0 lead when senior midfielder Colton Walter found the back of the net and it looked like business as usual. Midway through the first half, however, Taylor tied the game with 18:29 left. Liberty Hill tried to answer, but it became a game of back-and-forth possessions as they battled to a 1-1 stalemate at halftime.
“Coming in against Taylor, we wanted to possess and try to pull them out of their good defensive shape,” said Head Coach Darren Bauer. “We wanted to find those spaces and gaps to create opportunities for us at the net. Taylor does a good job defensively, and I give all credit to them. They work hard. They are very disciplined in what they want to do, and they caused us problems at times. We had some people that were not on their best game today, but overall, I think we played well.”
In the second half, both teams traded possessions trying to gain an advantage, and it was the Ducks who found it. With 6:53 left in the second half, Taylor netted a goal on a header to give them the 2-1 advantage. Liberty Hill went into a fast-paced offensive style of play, but could not get off a clear shot before the end of regulation.
“They put two goals away and we only put away one,” Bauer said. “When they got ahead, we did not panic. We pushed a little more and put another person forward, and we still tried to do what we normally want to do. I think a sign of not panicking is just the experience we have on this team. We had been in games where we were down and come from behind before in years past. At that point, we knew what we had to do, but unfortunately, we did not get it done.”
The loss puts an end to the season and an end to the Panthers’ 13-game winning streak, which had previously been extended Friday night when the Panthers took down Wimberly in the bi-district playoff round.
Liberty Hill battled to a 0-0 tie by the end of regulation, but in the second overtime period landed two goals to lift them to the victory. Bauer said his team did not start as fast as he would have liked in the bi-district win.
“We came in against Wimberly and we started a little slow, but we picked it back up,” he said. “We created a lot of chances in that game; we just did not finish our opportunities. It took us a little while, but we finally got those goals in overtime and pulled it out. We kept creating opportunities; we just needed to do a little better finishing in that game.”
Bauer said he did not tell his team anything special before the overtime periods.
“When you get to overtime in the playoffs, it is all about who is going to keep working for it,” he said. “The team willing to give everything they have usually comes out on top in those situations. Our game plan the entire time, including the overtime periods, we felt was working. We did not change much headed into the overtime. We just tried to continue to create opportunities and get a couple.”
Despite exiting the playoffs sooner than they would have liked, the Panthers turned in a solid year. The team won 18 games and went undefeated in district play en route to another district championship.
“Overall, it was a good season, not just because of the wins, but throughout the year we got better and better,” Bauer said. “We have a lot of young players that are coming up and still learning. We have a bright future ahead of us, and I think that’s because of a lot of the veterans and experience we had on this team.”
Bauer said his seniors that played their last game for him have been a special group to his program.
“This was the freshman class that came in the year after our state title run five years ago,” Bauer said. “They had big shoes to fill, and I think over four years they have done a really good job of keeping Liberty Hill tradition alive and the soccer program winning. They have done a lot for this program and they all mean a lot to me. I will definitely miss them.”