By JUSTIN RAINS
The Palestine girls’ soccer team went unbeaten during the first day of the East Texas Shootout at Wildcat Stadium, but missed a big opportunity to take complete control of their group.
The Ladycats easily ran past Carthage, 4-0, to open the tournament behind a hat-trick from Xochitl Zavala, but managed only a 1-1 draw against Silsbee.
The draw came despite Palestine dominating possession in the game and easily outshooting the Lady Tigers.
“They’re a good team, a quality club and have some really good players,” PHS coach John Absalom said. “I think we should’ve come away with the W, but that’s what soccer is all about.”
After a scoreless first half, the Ladycats began to seriously up the pressure on the Lady Tiger defense.
Just four minutes into the half, Palestine’s Zavala and Alyssa Claytor had a two-on-one opportunity stopped by a nice defensive tackle from the Silsbee defender.
Five minutes later, Zavala put a shot on goal that was nicely saved by the Silsbee keeper, something that would become a theme in the half.
But, less than a minute later the Ladycats got the game’s scoring started.
After the Silsbee goal-kick following Zavala’s shot, Gabby Meyers gained control of the ball from 25 yards out and took a chance.
Meyers sent her shot goalward and it went in, putting Palestine up 1-0 and looking like it might be the move that Palestine needed to open the flood gates.
Less than two minutes later, that all changed.
After a failed Palestine throw-in led to a handball, Silsbee stood over the ball with a free kick from 35 yards out.
The ball was placed perfectly on the back post, and a Silsbee player got just enough of her head on it to redirect it past Palestine goalie Amber Gonzales for the equalizer.
From there, Silsbee merely tried to hang on for the three points, which wasn’t always easy.
Zavala sent a shot goalward from 20 yards out in the 55th minute that was denied thanks to a nice save, and in the 67th minute, Zavala helped get a run started with a beautiful through ball to Claytor, who was streaking down the right wing.
Claytor collected the ball, cut inside and let loose a shot, but it was once again saved.
Zavala collected the ball after a deflection from the keeper’s punt, and sent another shot towards goal but, once again, the Silsbee keeper was up to the task on what proved to be either team’s final chance in the game.
“We had some pretty good opportunities, but the goalkeeper did a really good job for them,” Absalom said.
Silsbee almost took the lead early on, when a shot bounced back off of the cross bar just five minutes into the contest, as Palestine played shaky in the first 10 minutes.
After that, however, the Ladycats calmed down and controlled the game for the majority of the time. But, they just couldn’t seem to find a break-through move or beat the Silsbee goalkeeper.
Still, the win and draw give the Ladycats 13 points after two games in pool play. They can advance to the semifinals with a win over Mabank and a Silsbee loss or draw to either Carthage or Mabank. If Silsbee beats both, then it could come down to goal differential or other tiebreakers.
“What I like is the kids are hustling, they’re playing with heart and they want to learn,” Absalom said of his team. “As long as you give me kids that want to learn and play with heart...that’s all we ask for as coaches.”
Palestine concludes pool play against Mabank at 8 a.m. today, while tournament games continue all day at Wildcat Stadium.
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org