Soccer season ends with 1-0 loss to Bandera in second round

Pedro Silva (center) had the best attempt at goal after dribbling the ball down the Bulldog defense, but his shot hit the goalpost and bounced out.(Shannon Hofmann Photo)

Pedro Silva (center) had the best attempt at goal after dribbling the ball down the Bulldog defense, but his shot hit the goalpost and bounced out. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

By Paul Livengood

“Survive and advance,” a term coined by Jim Valvano in 1983, is the name of the game in playoff sports.

In round one, Liberty Hill did that. Last Friday, however, the Panthers fell to the Bandera Bulldogs in round two of the 4A UIL State playoffs by a final score of 1-0.

The 2016-17 senior class of the Liberty Hill soccer program, the first freshman class when the program began four years ago, left empty handed in their final playoff run.

“We started this thing four years ago, with this senior class, and I knew four years ago it was going to be special,” Head Coach Darren Bauer said. “They’ve put in everything with me for those four years. They’ve made this program what it is. It’s feared around the state. People know who we are and a lot of people don’t want to play us.”

After the game, virtually every member of the Liberty Hill program—players, coaches, and trainers alike—all stared at the ground in disbelief that the journey had ended.

Senior Slade Cummins and junior Cooper Jenkins sat down on the 35-yard line of the football field together, taking in what had just happened.

“I went by myself after the game to gather myself,” Cummins said. “I sat down and (Jenkins) came up next to me. He wasn’t crying, but he saw me crying, then he told me ‘I’m sorry man, I really wanted to do it for the seniors because you all worked so hard’ and he started bawling.”

Liberty Hill went down 1-0 nearly midway into the first half when Bandera’s Abram Mata fired off a goal from more than 30 yards out.

Liberty Hill goalkeeper Parker Sargent sold out completely to make the save, but Mata’s shot was placed too well with too much pace. Sargent didn’t even manage to get a touch on the ball. Cummins described the goal as one in which “you can’t even be mad that it went in,” because it was that great of a shot.

Senior Jack Brewer had an up close and personal vantage point of the play.

“I cut one way, he cut the other way and kind of crossed me up, and put a really great shot on goal that no one expected,” Brewer said.

Cummins and Brewer both expressed that the team remained confident in their ability to respond with a goal of their own to tie up the game.

“It was probably better that it was early on in the game, because we were like ‘Okay, we have time to get everything situated again,’” Cummins said. “It’s much better than (Bandera scoring) in the last 10 minutes of the game.”

Dawson Carroll nearly knotted the game at 1-1 10 minutes later, but headed the cross from Jordan Schwingendorf a foot wide of the right post.

The Panthers trailed at halftime for the sixth time this season, and were 2-3 in such matches to that point. The last time Liberty Hill trailed at half dated back to Feb. 15 in the team’s 4-0 road loss to Salado.

About 14 minutes after the break, the Panthers had the best look at goal of the entire game. Pedro Silva dribbled the ball down the right side of the Bulldogs’ defense, turned and shot across his body in one swift motion, hitting the right goalpost and bouncing out.

Schwingendorf crossed the ball to Carroll again, but Carroll tripped over Bandera’s goalie and fell into the net with seven minutes left in regulation.

From that moment forward, Bauer reduced his back line to three men instead of four, and committed an extra man to the Panthers’ attack. Liberty Hill made runs at the goal over and over again for the final seven minutes, but each trip ended with Bandera clearing the ball out.

The potential loss didn’t hit home with Cummins until the clock ticked within the final minute.

“Every 10 seconds or so, we would have a drive at the goal, and it wasn’t until the last one with about 26 seconds or so where I thought, ‘This is it,’” Cummins said. “Then (Bandera) cleared the ball in the last 10 seconds and I was like ‘Yeah, this is it.’ I got Pedro and I said, ‘Come here, man. I love you, brother.’ It sucked.”

Bauer said the lesson he wants his team to learn from the loss is, “You can’t take things for granted, and you have to work every game,” and “Just because you’re the better team doesn’t always mean you’re going to win.”

The Panthers finished their fourth season as a program as bi-district champions with a 15-9-1 overall record.