Panthers defeat Giddings in extra time
By Taylor Grafft
ELGIN — The Liberty Hill Panthers soccer team is headed to the Regional Tournament following their 2-1 victory over Giddings in extra time on Tuesday at Elgin High School.
With time winding down in the second half of extra time, the Panthers looked like they were headed to their second straight match that would be decided on penalty kicks.
Then something rare happened.
With 0:24 remaining, the Panthers won an indirect free kick in their opponent’s box. The head referee claimed the Giddings’ goalkeeper touched the ball initially to stop a long shot from Liberty Hill, and then picked the ball up a second time after wasting time and being pressured by the Panthers.
Coach Darren Bauer says his team practiced taking indirect free kicks only once or twice this season, given the rare occurrence it is actually awarded in a match. So when the Panthers found themselves seven yards away from goal they had to improvise a little.
Zach Zausch had been Liberty Hill’s free kick specialist all season long, and in the biggest moment of the Panthers’ season, the senior did not disappoint. Zausch smashed the layoff pass from his teammate into the bottom left corner of the net to send the Buffaloes out of the playoffs.
“At first when Coach told me to take it I was scared out of my mind,” Zausch said. “They were lined up all across the goal line, so I didn’t know where to shoot it at first, but I saw an opening and fortunately it went in. It’s the best feeling of my life.”
Liberty Hill’s Jack Brewer gave his team the early advantage in the 18th minute. Brewer positioned himself in a dangerous spot in front of goal and took advantage of the Buffaloes’ shaky backline. Brewer finished off his effort with a composed shot to the far post and put his team up 1-0.
The Panthers created plenty of chances throughout the match and tested the Giddings’ goalkeeper early and often, especially from long distance. The problem was their shots weren’t finding the target consistently. Liberty Hill took 24 shots in regulation, but only nine of those shots were on target.
With 2:28 remaining in regulation, Giddings was awarded a penalty for a handball by a Liberty Hill defender. Giddings’ junior Chris Orocio stepped up to the spot and gave his team the equalizer to stay alive in the playoffs.
Orocio was clearly the Buffaloes’ best player on the pitch and gave the Liberty Hill players headaches when he dribbled at them down the right flank. But to the Panthers’ credit they never let the junior beat them in the run of play by closing him down with multiple defenders.
“(Orocio) killed us last game we played him too,” Bauer said. “He’s a great player and a kid like that, that’s so calm with the ball you have to pressure him, but at the same time stand up and play with him. With tired legs it’s hard to do that. For the most part our defense did a good job against him.”