COLLEGE STATION – While local residents took shelter from dangerous spring storms Saturday afternoon, the Palestine Wildcat soccer team faced down their own storm at College Station.
The Wildcats survived a blustery battle with the Fulshear High School Chargers (19-5-4). Palestine's 2-0 win earned the title of Region 3-AAAA Champs, and a trip to the UIL State Tournament.
Up to Saturday, Palestine’s defense had proven practically impenetrable. Goalkeeper Christian Hutchinson could have snoozed through most of the four previous playoff games.
Not on Saturday, though, against the talented Fulshear offense. The Chargers delivered an intimidating onslaught of shots that tested Palestine's keeper to the max.
Hutchinson showed no signs of rust, however, making one big stop after the other in tallying six saves for the shutout.
“Our keeper played lights-out,” Head Coach John Absalom told the Herald-Press. “He saved our tail several times with outstanding saves.”
Saturday’s contest was rescheduled several times, as tournament organizers tried to work around the thunderstorms predicted for the Brazos Valley area.
When the Wildcats’ 2 p.m. game started, heavy rains had already moved through the Bryan/College Station. The artificial turf at A&M Consolidated’s Tiger Stadium was playable, but high winds still caused havoc for both teams.
The Wildcats got on the board with 22 minutes left in the first half. Riley Harper got taken down in the box by a Fulshear defender on a short corner. Harper sustained a minor injury, forcing him to leave the field.
Teammate Javier Leonor took the penalty kick and beat the FHS keeper to the left.
The defenses battled for the rest of the half, and the teams went to the break with PHS holding a tenuous one-point lead.
Early in the second half, Luis Rangel got the ball on the outside left flank, cut in front of the FHS defender and headed to the front post. When the Chargers’ keeper moved to cover the front post, Rangel slotted the ball across the mouth of the goal to Harper, who was positioned on the back post. Harper redirected it in for the goal.
Hutchinson and the Wildcat defense held the Chargers at bay for the next 35 minutes.
Coach Absalom's Wildcats (32-0-2) will make their fourth trip to the state tournament, playing in Georgetown Wednesday at 4 p.m. They face the Eagles of San Elizario in far west Texas. The Eagles defeated Stephenville 4-2 in their regional final.
These two teams met in the State Final last year, where San Eli edged Palestine, 1-0. That heartbreaker turned out to be PHS’ only loss in the past 69 matches. Now the Wildcats are on a mission to avenge it.