By Vanessa Goodwyn
MEXIA — The Palestine girls soccer team returned to Mexia’s Blackcat Stadium on Friday night -- this time to square off with the Lady Leopards of Lorena in the Region III Quarterfinals.
The well-matched teams played cat-‘n mouse early, but midway through the first half, Lorena’s offense built momentum.
Ladycat defenders, however, made several good stops. Goalkeeper Lesley Chavez also made some solid saves. Still, Lorena kept the ball in Palestine’s end of the field.
At 15:08, PHS’ keep was drawn out to make a stop; Lorena’s Kenzie Tuyo then slammed the ball in the unprotected net.
A foul on LHS gave Palestine’s Melissa Giron a free kick from midfield; she was right on target, but Lorena’s keep made the catch.
Palestine dodged a bullet in the final seconds of the first half, as #25 launched a rocket at Palestine’s goal that flew just wide.
The second half opened with Palestine’s offense stepping up.
At 34:30, Palestine’s Caitlyn Martinez tied the game with a high blast from 35 yards out that dropped into the top of the net.
Minutes later, senior forward Isabel Garcia gave the LadyCats their first lead. Taking the ball at the 30-yard-line, she out-maneuvered her defender, worked her way to the 7, and placed the ball high into the back of the net.
The LadyCats didn’t enjoy their lead for long. Lorena captain Katie Burnside nailed a free kick to knot the game again, 2-2.
Palestine survived a corner kick by LHS, then lucked out when a flag nullified an apparent LHS goal.
A corner kick by Palestine gave the LadyCats multiple shots at the goal. None connected, and Garcia’s next shot on goal flew wide.
The Lady Leopards peppered Chavez with shots in the final 12 minutes, but the Palestine keep rose to the challenge. Regulation play ended in a tie.
In the first 10-minute overtime, with the 10-mph wind favoring Lorena, Chavez made six huge saves to keep her team alive. The game went into a second OT period. Exhausted players battled on, but none scored.
This one came down to penalty kicks. Palestine’s Chavez first faced Burnside, who scored. Kunze blocked Garcia’s attempt. Chavez blocked LHS’ Haley Flores’ shot. Bryanna Gomez scored for PHS. LHS’ Ava Sanders placed the next shot just over Chavez’ head, then PHS’ Melissa Giron returned the favor, scoring for Palestine.
Paisley Whalen put it in the corner for Lorena’s 3rd shot. Lacey Gambrell’s shot was blocked. Lorena’s Bailey Burbidge stepped up to nail down the lid, but Chavez made another huge stop. Palestine had the last shot, but Caitlyn Martinez’ attempt sailed high, and Lorena won on penalty kicks, 5-4.
As Head Coach Luis Hernandez predicted, Lorena proved to be a physical squad with fast and talented forwards. They also played well as a team.
This heartbreaker shuts the door on the LadyCats’ very successful 2019 campaign. They finished 16/8/6, with District, Bi-District and Area titles. The only PHS squad to do better was the 2017 team that went to the Regional Semifinal game, where it lost to Terrell.