Boys’ season ends in Regional Finals with 1-0 loss to Progreso

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By Lance Catchings

The Liberty Hill Panthers turned in an excellent season, ending with an 18-6-2 record and a trip to the Regional Finals, which ended in a 1-0 loss to a very talented Progreso team. The Panthers started the season a bit up and down, but righted the ship midseason and never looked back. After the game on Saturday, Head Coach Darren Bauer said his team gave an excellent effort in the Regional Final.

“I thought we played well and fought hard,” Bauer said. “We lost 1-0 versus a very good Progreso team, and they will do very well at the State Tournament. I was proud of the way we battled through some things and played together.”

The Panthers fought hard defensively through much of the match as Progreso led an aggressive attack. Progreso took many shots on goal, but due to a stout defense, the Panthers held them to only one score.

“We did give up a lot of shots and we did get pressured a lot,” Bauer said. “We started to panic a little bit, but even the shots they took were from far out and did not trouble us that much. The one they did get, we did not clear in time, and they capitalized on our mistake. That ended up being the difference in the game.”

The Regional Final is the furthest a Liberty Hill boys’ soccer team has been since the team made an appearance in the State Title game in their second season under Bauer. He said this team worked through many adversities to get to where they were.

“It has been an awesome season for these guys,” he said. “If you looked at our lineup this year at the end of last year and said that’s what we are going to play, they probably would have laughed at me. The fact that the guys worked, learned and had the passion to come out and play hard, you can’t complain whatsoever. I am going to miss all of the seniors we had this year. Bryce (Stratton) is a big person for us and makes things work. Michael is a workhorse for us and without Jordan (Schwingendorf) we’ll lose some speed. Cooper (Jenkins) and Coby (Bodine) were big for us this year. We are definitely losing some pieces, but we will put them back together and try and come back strong next year.”

Last Friday in the Regional Semifinal against Hidalgo, the Panthers showed why they deserved to be at the tournament. Liberty Hill dominated Hidalgo in a tough physical matchup to get the 3-1 victory. Jaron Frye, Michael Shipley and Stratton all netted goals for the Panthers. Stratton said the win was a fight from the start.

“It was a very tough, physical game for us against Hidalgo,” Stratton said. “We had to work hard, and I mean work hard the entire time. We never stopped working the entire time, and honestly, it’s the first time we have ever done that. Usually, in the second half we let up, but this game we played strong the entire time, and it was awesome.”

Stratton said he had high hopes for his senior season, but had no idea how far the team would go.

“It was crazy in the beginning of the season, and I had no clue we would be this good,” he said. “I had high hopes and expectations for this team, even though we weren’t the best early. We have become the best and we are working hard and getting better each game. It’s crazy how we have overcome so many obstacles and how great we have gotten and meshed as a team.”

Bauer said one of the keys to victory over Hidalgo was sticking to their game plan.

“We came out in the first half and took the wind,” he said. “We knew we wanted to get out ahead of Hidalgo, and we knew it would be a battle in the second half no matter what. In the second half, we just grinded it out. We took away many of their options and took care of business when we got in front of the goal. We have gotten tougher game-to-game. In the beginning of the year with our defense, I was worried about some tough games like this with physicality. From the beginning until now, game after game after game, we have gotten better. It was the same thing for us today.”

Goalie Parker Sargent, who made some huge stops in the game, said he was proud of the defensive effort the Panthers put up.

“Our defense played really well against Hidalgo,” he said. “Our four back defenders are finally coming together as a group. Coby, Matt (Shipley), Cooper and Cade (Campbell) on the outside have all done a really great job. We have really good threats up the wing and the two guys in the center are really good at standing people up and keeping those shots down. Defense means more to a goalkeeper than any other position on the field. To have these guys that will do anything for you to stop a shot means a lot.”

Lance@LHIndependent.com

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