Zausch scores extra time goal to give Panthers shot at State Title

The Panthers celebrate the winning goal Wednesday by #19 Zachari Zausch that sent Liberty Hill to the State championship game at 2:30pm April 17. The Panthers play San Elizario for the title. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

The Panthers celebrate the winning goal Wednesday by #19 Zachari Zausch that sent Liberty Hill to the State championship game at 2:30pm April 17. The Panthers play San Elizario for the title. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

By Taylor Grafft

GEORGETOWN — Liberty Hill senior Zachari Zausch sent the Liberty Hill Panther soccer team to the state finals with a last-grasp goal in extra time, and secured a 2-1 win over Center High School on Wednesday evening.

The Panthers will play the San Elizario Eagles at 2:30 p.m. Friday, April 17, in the state finals for a chance to secure a state title in their first year of varsity soccer.

San Elizario defeated Kilgore 5-1 in the first Class 4A boys semifinal match on Wednesday to secure their spot in the finals.

With 5:35 left in the second period of extra time, Zausch couldn’t believe the amount of space his opponents afforded him and unleashed a shot from 35 yards out that was low and into the bottom left corner. It was a perfectly-placed finish.

Zausch scored the game winner in a 2-1 extra time victory over Giddings in the Regional Quarterfinals. The senior scored off an indirect free kick, a rare occurrence in soccer.

In that post game interview, Zausch said it was the greatest moment of his soccer career.

Zachari Zausch scored the winning goal Wednesday. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

Zachari Zausch scored the winning goal Wednesday. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

Now he has a new one.

“This is 10 times better,” Zausch said with a huge smile on his face. “It’s the state semifinals and we’re going to state as a first-year program. Honestly, I just give all glory to God. I’m speechless right now. I’m just happy it went in.”

Liberty Hill had previously believed that senior Jack Brewer gave them the game-winning goal in the first overtime period. The senior used his left foot to finish a ball in the right side of the box, giving the Panthers a 1-0 lead.

But Center kept their hopes and state title dreams alive by finding the equalizer with eight minutes left in the second overtime period.

Following those two goals, the game really opened up for the Panthers. The forwards and midfielders constantly brought a flood of pressure on the Roughriders’ backline and goalkeeper.

“To get (Jack’s goal) it opened the match up a lot,” Coach Darren Bauer said. “Unfortunately, we had to play more defensive and it allowed them to get the tying goal, but then we showed our composure, our heart, our character. That’s something we’ve been doing all year long. Center showed their tired legs, and unfortunately they don’t have a deep bench, we do. When Zach got that ball they didn’t feel like pressuring him and you can’t leave him or Omar Perez open for a shot.”

Before the overtime period Liberty Hill played a defensive match against the Center Roughriders, but created plenty of opportunities to score. Neither team found the back of the net during regulation as a result.

“They were a difficult team to unlock,” Zausch admitted. “We just had to keep our composure and work as a team, to wait for our opportunity to score.”

Both defenses and goalkeepers were as good as advertised, as the forwards of both teams struggled to unlock the backline or find any space for quality shots. Several times during the opening 80 minutes, junior Liberty Hill goalkeeper Caleb Knight and Center goalkeeper Julian Jimenez were tested, but showed poise between the posts.

Whether it was a cross into the box, rushing out to punch away a corner kick, or making a diving attempt to deny their opponent, the two shot-stoppers shined bright.

While both goalkeepers were spectacular when called upon to make a save, neither was tested often. Both teams finished the first half with two shot attempts on goal, and in the second half Liberty Hill found the target 11 times, while Center had six shots on goal.

Liberty Hill’s offense opened up in the final 15 minutes of regulation as the team pushed forward and Center sat back and parked the bus.

Their best chance came with seven minutes remaining in the second half. The move started with Slade Cummins’ pass out wide to Lucas Rizzotto on the left wing. Rizzotto then played a soft cross back to the top of the box for senior Zausch’s feet.

Zausch fired a shot from 12 yards out, but Center shotstopper Julian Jimenez made a spectacular diving save to deny the Panthers a winner with time winding down.

Both teams spent the first 15 minutes of the first half feeling each other out. Neither team broke the game open, but both teams had prime opportunities to score as a result of poor defensive clearances.

Liberty Hill first threatened in the ninth minute. Center’s centre back gave away possession on a bad pass, allowing senior Rizzotto to pick up the ball in a dangerous area. Rizzotto laid it off to senior Joey Kipfer in the middle, but Kipfer’s soft shot rolled right to the goalkeeper.

Ten minutes later, Center nearly opened the scoring when junior Lorenzo Angel unleashed a shot from the left of the box that hit the side netting.

In the 22nd minute, the Panthers sparked a quick counter attack that began with Zausch playing a ball forward to Rizzotto. Rizzotto attempted to take on the entire Roughriders’ defense through a great individual effort, and ended the move by splitting two defenders and sending a shot towards goal, drawing a corner kick on the parry by the keeper.

The last 20 minutes featured both teams battling for possession in midfield, but neither team created a decent threat to score a goal.