Boys soccer undefeated in district

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By Lance Catchings

Tuesday night, the Liberty Hill boys’ soccer team (9-2-3, 4-0) picked up their fourth district win of the season by defeating Salado (5-11, 3-1) by a score of 5-1. Last Friday night amid ice, rain, sleet and snow, the Panthers blanked Little River Academy 3-0 for their third district win of the season.

Friday night, the game was started with the temperature just above freezing, and Head Coach Darren Bauer said that is something soccer players just get used to.

“That is just high school soccer season for you,” Bauer said. “The weather and temperatures are something you have to overcome. I talked to the guys about it Friday before the game, and I told them our opponent is playing in the same weather that we are. It’s cold, but that is not an excuse, and we have to go out there and perform just like we would on any other day.”

The Panthers battled to a 0-0 tie at halftime against Little River Academy Friday night as their opponent put up a strong first-half defensive effort.

“Little River Academy was hardworking, defensively, but at the same time, I felt we had complete control of the game,” Bauer said. “We should have scored three or four goals in the first half. We just did not convert our chances. I was happy the way we played, although it was 0-0 at half. They never threatened our goal, and we moved the ball the way we wanted to.”

Liberty Hill maintained possession of the ball in their opponent’s territory almost the entire first half. When Academy tried to press, the Panthers would send the ball to the opposite side of the field, exposing gaps on the backside before they could recover.

“That is one of the things that we work on a lot,” Bauer said. “We cannot be one dimensional. If you are one dimensional, then you will get shut down. If another team shuts down the one thing you’re good at, it is hard to win. We focus on a lot of different things. We focus on possessing the ball, but the whole point is to get teams to step to us while the ball is in our possession. When they do that, it creates space behind, and that is where we can take advantage. We work hard with the guys on that to notice when to play the ball on the ground and when that space opens to play a more direct long ball. Sometimes, out of that same concept, we can switch the side of the field. It just depends on what the defense is doing. That is a part of our philosophy and how we teach our players to play.”

During halftime, Bauer simply told his team to play cleaner.

“At halftime, we talked about just cleaning up small mistakes,” he said. “In the first half, we almost gave them a goal, but that was their only chance. We came out quick in the first half and put three chances away.”

Liberty Hill quickly scored three goals in the second half to go up 3-0. The Panthers use possession as their base, but are still capable of running the fast break. Colton Walter was an ace in the midfield, executing no-look passes like he was playing basketball on grass. Walter, Jaron Frye and Mark Montes all netted goals in the win. Walter and Mason Shipley each picked up an assist before play was halted.

“We possess, and also when that space opens, we can get out and run,” Bauer said. “The space we have Colton Walter in at the midfield gives him a lot of room. If he can get the ball, turn and go, then that is what we are looking to do. It doesn’t always have to be a long ball to find it. He can turn and go with Alfredo, Jaron, Mark or Mason, and when that happens, it is fun to watch. It is another way we can exploit teams by trying to play dynamic. We like to possess, but at any moment, we feel like we can break on you.”

Midway through the second half, play was stopped due to heavy sleet. Since the game was in the second half and Liberty Hill was leading 3-0, the Panthers earned the victory as players, coaches and fans all ran for cover.

This Friday night, Liberty Hill travels to rival Burnet, and Bauer wants him team to stay focused on the task at hand.

“To be successful against Burnet, we need to continue to move the ball the way we have been through the midfield,” he said. “In the last five games, we have had a lot of success moving the ball in the midfield. That has been the difference from the beginning of the year to the success we have now. We also need to play solid in the back. If we can do those two things, I think we will get our opportunities.”

The Panthers will be back at home Feb. 19 when they host Lampasas.

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