By LANCE CATCHINGS
The Liberty Hill varsity boys’ soccer team dropped a tough loss to Stephenville on Tuesday night by a final score of 1-0. The team’s expectations for the class 4A playoffs are high this season, and Head Coach Darren Bauer said that playoff atmosphere spilled into the preseason match. Despite the loss, Bauer was happy with the effort and enthusiasm his team played with.
“It was a great game against a good team,” Bauer said. “It was a great early test for us against a playoff-caliber team. This is the earliest in the season that I have had a game that had a playoff feel to it. Both teams fought extremely hard. The goal they scored was off of a penalty kick, and we hit the bar a couple of times, so it could have gone either way.”
Stephenville scored on a penalty kick in the first half to take a 1-0 lead, and the Panthers were unable to rally. Despite the penalty-kick score, Bauer said the defense played well.
“Overall, I feel we played well defensively,” he said. “We still made a few mistakes here and there, but nothing that gave up a goal against Stephenville. Other than the penalty kick, they did not get very many chances on goal. A game like that against a good playoff bound team the defense played well.”
Offensively, the Panthers had some shots on goal, but could not convert.
“At times tonight, we struggled offensively, and that was mostly due to keeping the ball in the midfield,” he said. “When we did find some lanes, we attacked well and caused some problems. Jaaron Frye was a menace tonight and had three or four chances to score. He probably should have put one away, but that’s soccer. We struggled at times, but we also created chances, so as a coach, I can’t complain.”
Bauer said the team will focus on finishing offensive possessions over the next week.
“Our focus will continue to be the same as we move forward,” he said. “We want to make sure our defense is taking shape and playing safe and smart. One of the big things we need to work on is finishing. We created plenty of chances tonight, we just did not finish. When we played Copperas Cove before, we dominated the game, but we did not finish well. With the defense coming along, we just need to work on finishing. I thought we fought hard and left it all on the field. It is good to see that so early in the season, and if we can do that now, I am excited to see what we can do down the road.”
At the Temple tournament Jan. 4-6, the Panthers went 2-1-1 over the span of four games.
In their first game of the tournament, Frye scored two goals in a 4-2 loss to Waco High.
“Waco is a very good 5A, and we know they have been good every year,” Bauer said. “At times, we played better than them. We created some opportunities and showed we can play with teams like that. We made some mistakes, and those are some things we are trying to get solidified.”
In their second game of the tournament, Mason Shipley scored on an assist from Mark Montes to lift the Panthers to a 1-0 victory in the second half over Copperas Cove.
“We possessed the ball fairly well against a 6A school,” Bauer said. “It was a game we dominated, and it was a game we got to show what we could do.”
Next, the Panthers routed China Spring by a final score of 10-1. The Panthers took a 6-0 lead at halftime and added another four goals in the second half to dismiss the Cougars by nine.
“Against China Spring, we came out and possessed well,” Bauer said. “The only difference between this game and Copperas Cove is that we finished.”
In their final game of the tournament, Cade Campbell scored the lone goal for Liberty Hill as they fought to a 1-1 tie against 4A Waco La Vega.
“La Vega is a good 4A team,” Bauer said. “In the first half I felt like we dominated. They did not get many opportunities, but playing four games in three days to start the season is tough. We had a bench riddled with injuries. They got one in on us and we snuck one in later on. It gave some of our younger players experience against a good team. Overall it showed we have some depth and there are players we can put in and trust.”
The Panthers are off until Jan. 16, when they host Copperas Cove at 5:30 p.m.