Boys’ soccer claims district with 4-1 win over Salado

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By Lance Catchings

The Liberty Hill boys’ soccer team, which now holds a record of 16-2-3 (11-0), claimed their fourth district championship in their five-year existence with a 4-1 win over Salado Friday, then followed it with another win Tuesday over Burnet.

The Panthers cruised to a 6-0 win over Burnet at home on Tuesday’s Senior Night to continue their undefeated stretch throughout district play.

“Senior night against Burnet, we came out a little sluggish,” Head Coach Darren Bauer said. “We put some players in positions they are not used to. Once we got our feet under us, we took advantage of our opportunities and Burnet didn’t really have a chance.”

Seniors Henry Madison, Cade Campbell, Colton Walter, Brayden Sommerfield, Erick Jaimes, Jorge Leija and Zach Sotello all played their final home game at Panther Stadium. Bauer said they have been a special group for the Liberty Hill soccer program.

“Many of the seniors from this group had big shoes to fill,” Bauer said. “They were the first group to come in after we went to State that first year. Expectations were already high, and the way they have come in to fill the shoes of the players we have lost over those four years has been incredible. I expect this group to do nothing but succeed once they leave high school.”

Campbell said it was bittersweet beating Burnet on senior night.

“It is something to be proud of to be a part of this program,” Campbell said. “We have a good team this season, and it’s a little heartbreaking playing my last game on this field of my career, but I am happy with all four years I have played. We ain’t done, yet. We some dogs, so we’ve got to eat.”

Sotello said that team chemistry is what brought them this far and he hopes it continues.

“We always play as a team, and we have good chemistry together,” Sotello said. “We have played four years together, and we are like a big family. Hard work has been the thing that has helped us this far. We have good chemistry, and that is what it takes to make a good team. We have played on this field many times over the last few years, but I am glad to go out with these guys.”

Last Friday against Salado, the Panthers had to deal with some adversity due to a red card being issued to a Liberty Hill player in the first 20 minutes. Liberty Hill had to play the remainder of the game with only 10 players on the field.

“We came out pretty quick in the Salado game,” Bauer said. “We took advantage early on of a chance they gave us. We had some misfortune with a red card and had to play 60 minutes of the game with only 10 men on the field. Besides the penalty kicks we gave up, I don’t believe we gave up a shot. The guys played well, down a man, playing smart, simple soccer the way we want them to.”

Liberty Hill got goals from Walter, Mason Shipley, Jessie Anaya and Sotello in the win. Campbell, Garrison Clopton, Jaron Frye and Gabe Hernandez all had assists in the win.

“Playing a man down, our strategy was to possess the ball and move it quickly to try and get them to add pressure and waste energy,” Bauer said. “After the game, I told the guys it takes a big mentality to play a man down for that long and come away with a win. We were still attacking at the end of the game and got three goals in the last 20 minutes, which was impressive.”

Friday’s win clinched the district championship for the Panthers for the second year in a row and the fourth time in five seasons.

“We clinched district, but we still went into the Burnet game full-force attacking, and we will go into the Lampasas game the same way,” Bauer said. “I have said this before, but at Liberty Hill, district championships are just what is expected. That is not what we are working towards. We are working towards a state title. We will come out every game in full force, so we can make sure are ready when playoffs come around.”

Liberty Hill is off Friday, March 15 and will travel to Lampasas the following Tuesday for their final regular season game as they wait to find out who they will face in the bi-district playoff round. Bauer said the focus will be on staying sharp.

“Until we play Lampasas, our focus is going to be staying sharp and staying fit,” he said. “We want to be ready when Lampasas comes around, because we know they will want to beat us just as badly as they do every time we play them.”

With the district championship in hand, Liberty Hill will be the top seed from District 27-4A come playoff time.

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