Panther soccer ties Harker Heights, will face Taylor in playoffs

The Panthers ended the regular soccer season Monday with a 0-0 tie against Harker Heights. Liberty Hill will play Taylor in the first round of playoffs at 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, at Little River Academy. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

The Panthers ended the regular soccer season Monday with a 0-0 tie against Harker Heights. Liberty Hill will play Taylor in the first round of playoffs at 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, at Little River Academy. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

By Paul Livengood

HARKER HEIGHTS — The Panthers ended the regular season with a 0-0 tie against the 6A playoff bound Harker Heights Knights on Monday, March 20.

Both teams had late-game opportunities to leave Leo Buckley Stadium with a win. With 1:30 remaining in the game, Liberty Hill’s Dawson Carroll played a free kick into the box from 30 yards out. The cross was headed by a Panther player toward the goal, and was saved one-handed over the cross bar by the Knights’ goalkeeper.

Harker Heights had back-to-back opportunities to steal the game from the Panthers with less than 30 seconds left. The Knights hurried to set up a corner set piece before sending a cross into the box with 10 seconds left, after which the ball was headed into the cross bar. The Panthers cleared the ball out of the skirmish, but it went straight to the foot of a Knights’ player who fired one last shot from 30 yards away through traffic. The shot was blocked by the Liberty Hill defense as the Panthers avoided a loss.

“(Harker Heights) pressured more than teams we’ve seen recently,” Assistant Coach Timothy Maher said. “We had some trouble handling the ball in the midfield, but we also played slower than usual. The guys found a way to fight through it, and not give up any goals on the backside.”

The Panthers’ regular season finale was their only tie of the season—Liberty Hill finished with a 14-8-1 overall record and a 9-2 district record.

After the game, senior Panther Slade Cummins said he likes how the team is playing as of late, particularly against top competition like the Knights.

“These games speed it up,” Cummins said. “It’s good to have these challenging teams right before playoffs because it bumps us up, helps us see where we actually are, and what we need to fine tune before the playoffs start.”

With the regular season in the books, Bauer and the team are excited to get to work and make a run for state.

“It is nice to have the regular season work done and headed into the playoffs,” Head Coach Darren Bauer said. “Now is what we work all season for. We have known all along that we are a tough team to play. These results at the end of the regular season are a good time to see things come together. We just have to be able to carry that play into the playoffs.”

The Panthers will enter the playoffs battle tested, and have learned a lot of lessons along the way. Liberty Hill lost a few early matchups to 5A Waco High, 6A Temple, and 4A Boerne, but the most telling game for Bauer, which he and the team will apply to the playoffs, was against a division foe.

“I would say the second Salado game we lost 4-0,” Bauer said. “We played well and created many more chances than they did, but sometimes you need to be humbled a little to improve and prepare. I think that game showed us that sometimes the team that wins does not have more possession or shots. Sometimes you just need to finish your chances.”

Liberty Hill has not lost since that day.

As the District 25 runner-up, the Panthers are set to play the Taylor Ducks in the first round of the playoffs.

The Ducks come in at 11-6-2 overall (9-2-1 in district play), and have won 8 of their last 10 games. Taylor is led by sophomore midfielder Stephen Morales, who leads the team in goals (10), assists (6), and points (26). Taylor senior goalkeeper Michael Weber will stand in between the pipes for the Ducks. Weber has 73 saves on the year and allows just under one goal a game (0.94).

Conversely, Jordan Schwingendorf and Colton Walter share the team lead in goals (11 each) for Liberty Hill, Bryce Stratton is the Panthers’ leading assist man, and Parker Sargent edges Weber with 86 saves in 2017 while allowing 1.299 goals per game.

Liberty Hill and Taylor have faced off once before, as the Panthers defeated the Ducks 5-0 in 2014 at Salado Eagle Classic, but both teams have grown since their first meeting.
Neither team played any common opponents this season, so there is no statistical gauge as to where the teams stack up against one another at this point. Bauer, Sargent, and Cummins have all echoed that Taylor is much better than when they faced the Ducks in 2014.

“Taylor is a good team, they have become a much more disciplined team, which makes a big difference in soccer,” Bauer said. “The less mistakes you make, the less opportunities you give your opponent.”

The Panthers face off against the Ducks on Friday, March 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Little River Academy.