Panthers fall to Copperas Cove, but impress in Temple tourney

Omar Perez (#10) cuts inside on his opponent, then rips off a left-footed shot to test the Copperas Cove goalkeeper. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Omar Perez (#10) cuts inside on his opponent, then rips off a left-footed shot to test the Copperas Cove goalkeeper. (Kathy Canady Photo)

By Taylor Grafft

If one thing can be taken away from the Liberty Hill men’s soccer team’s matches this week, it is that progress is being made.

While the team technically fell to Copperas Cove on paper in a 1-0 defeat, it did not feel like a loss for the Panther fans who were dedicated enough to brave the chilling winds and freezing temperatures at Panther Stadium Tuesday night in a friendly scrimmage with the Bulldawgs.

That’s because the Panthers not only dominated possession, but also out-shot the Dawgs 26 to 5. Credit should go to the Copperas Cove goalkeeper, who finished the match with 12 saves, and was called upon time after time to push away Liberty Hill’s flurry of chances and keep his clean sheet intact.

The Dawgs’ shot-stopper recorded his best save with 13 minutes left in the first half.

Liberty Hill’s Lucas Rizzotto found himself with the ball in space and unleashed a powerful shot from six yards out that clanked off the crossbar. Rizzotto followed up the rebound and tried a header towards goal, but the keeper pushed it out for a corner to deny the senior his first goal of the night.

Copperas Cove found the back of the net a minute later. With the Liberty Hill goalkeeper out of position and off his line, the Dawgs shot a long-range effort that went in and put the hosts behind despite their dominance.

With a minute left until halftime, a long ball from the left sideline found Omar Perez near the top of the 18-yard box.

Perez unleashed a low shot that forced the Copperas Cove goalkeeper to make another diving save and left the Panther fans screaming in disbelief.

Following the halftime break the Panthers once again dominated possession and enjoyed more chances than their opponents in the second half. Yet again, however, the Liberty Hill players could not produce the final ball or finished product to equalize.

Over the weekend, the Panthers traveled to Temple for a tournament and their first official matches of the season. While Liberty Hill was the only 4A team at the tournament, that did not stop Coach Daren Bauer’s team from making an impression on the bigger schools.

Rizzotto found his shooting boots at the tournament and lead all Liberty Hill scorers with three goals. Rizzotto also finished with three assists. Perez and Kale Sudderth both tallied two goals at the tournament.

Liberty Hill finished second in their group behind East View, but had an opportunity to win their group at one point in the tournament. The Panthers finished the weekend with two wins and two losses.

In their first match, Liberty Hill defeated Killeen 6-3. Rizzotto got on the scoresheet and also assisted three of his teammates’ goals. Sudderth scored a brace, while Jack Brewer, Bryce Stratton, and Zach Zausch also found the back of the net.

In the Panthers’ second match of the tournament, they surprised a tough Stony Point team that has always produced solid teams in the past by winning 1-0. Rizzotto scored the lone goal for Liberty Hill.

“The victory against Stony Point was a great win,” said Bauer. “They are always a good program year in and year out and for us to beat them in our first year was a real accomplishment.”

In the third match, Coach Bauer admitted his team might have experienced tired legs from all the matches and minutes his players were playing over the weekend. That translated into a 7-1 loss to East View, despite only being down 2-1 at halftime. Had the Panthers come back and gotten a positive result from their East View match they might have won the group.

Coach Bauer still saw a lot of positives from the loss and gave his team credit for their ability to play with the bigger program for a full half.

“We were still fighting for top of the group, but our ability to run with them fell short in the second half,” said Bauer. “East View is a very good school and we showed that we could play with those teams during the first half.”

Liberty Hill returned on Saturday for a match against the host Temple, but fell 3-2 in a hard fought battle until the final whistle. Twice in the match the Panthers fell a goal behind, but showed spark to find the equalizer.

“I was happy to see that our guys showed some perseverance coming from a goal down twice to tie it up,” said Bauer. “It was a great showing at a tournament that we were the only 4A team. We wanted (to play in) this tournament as a challenge and to show that Liberty Hill soccer is here and ready to compete, not just go out and play games. I think we were very successful in that endeavor.“

Liberty Hill plays its next match against Gatesville at home on Friday, Jan. 16, with kickoff scheduled for 5:30 p.m.