By JUSTIN RAINS
It’s been 15 years since the Palestine boys’ soccer team had a chance to call itself a district champion.
On Friday, that all changed.
UT-Tyler-bound Kaleb Garcia scored two first half goals, and Palestine added three in the second half as they rolled to an easy, 6-1 win over Diboll Friday at Palestine’s Wildcat Stadium.
With the win, Palestine earned a share of the District 35-4A championship with Nacogdoches.
“It feels great,” PHS coach John Absalom said. “To be here this long and to go up against some good 4A schools...and for these kids, it’s great.”
The Dragons come to Palestine at 7 p.m. today for a game to determine who gets the district’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
Garcia got Palestine on the board less than three minutes in, when he headed home a cross from Alonzo Cruz to give Palestine a 1-0 lead.
After the Wildcats missed three or four golden opportunities to extend the lead even further, Garcia again found the back of the net, connecting on a cross from Pablo Aguilar to double the Wildcat lead.
It proved handy, as not three minutes later a Diboll shot was partially blocked Palestine goalkeeper Jose Cabrera, but trickled past the senior and into the back of the net to make it 2-1.
But, Palestine responded well and, with just under five minutes to play in the half, Cass French stole a Diboll pass and started a Wildcat counter-attack.
French found Wilmer Marquez with a wonderful threw ball, and Marquez capped the beautiful play with a chip over the head of a charging Diboll goalkeeper.
That gave Palestine a 3-1 halftime lead, and the Wildcats never looked back.
With a comfortable lead, Absalom only played his starters for the first 15-or-so minutes in the second half. But, the group was on the field long enough to put another ball in goal.
This one came after Marcelo Zavala started a breakaway and beat a charging Diboll keeper. He then slid a pass to Marquez, who finished the goal with authority to make it 4-1.
From there, it was simply icing on the district champion cake.
With just under six minutes remaining, Treven Carr found Christian Aleman for the Wildcats fifth goal, and Lenis Lopez slotted home a penalty kick with a minute remaining to finish things off.
It’s Palestine’s first district title in 15 years, and give the Wildcats prime playoff positioning no matter what happens in today’s tiebreaker match.
“We’re not done,” Absalom said. “We’re still on a mission. We’ve still got a long way to go.”
H.S. GIRLS SOCCER
PALESTINE 1, Diboll 0
The Palestine girls’ soccer team clinched second place in District 35-4A Friday, using a second half goal from Nidia Umanzor to edge Diboll, 1-0.
With 15 minutes remaining in the contest, the play was restarted after an injury. After the ball was kicked down the field, Umanzor met it and lofted it over the Diboll keepers head for the deciding goal.
Despite dominating the entire first half possession-wise, Palestine was unable to break through.
Umanzor had numerous chances in the first half alone, including a solo breakaway with 14 minutes remaining in the first half.
The play started when Karina Rodas made a nice steal in midfield, and fed the ball to Jacksonville College-signee Xochitl Zavala.
Zavala then found Umanzor on the breakaway, but the senior drug the shot wide right to keep the game scoreless.
It appeared the second half would be more of the same, almost from the opening kick-off.
Alyssa Claytor put a shot on goal that was saved less than 10 minutes into the half, and less than 30 seconds later Zavala gathered, turned and shot but saw her effort saved by the Diboll goalkeeper.
Less than a minute after that, Zavala sent a cross in that Umanzor met, but that the Diboll keeper also saved.
Umanzor then saw herself on another breakaway three minutes later, but again drug her effort wide right to keep the game scoreless, before finally breaking through.
The win secures second-place for the Ladycats, and their playoff matchup information will be announced early next week.