The Palestine Wildcats (8-1-0) captured the 10th Annual Wildcat Classic Championship with a 2-1 golden goal victory over the Nacogdoches Dragons Saturday.
The Wildcats struck first, late in the match, on a Luis Rangel breakaway from JJ Garcia. The Dragons scored the equalizer with about a minute left on a corner kick that deflected off the bottom of the crossbar and in.
The game then moved into a golden goal, or sudden death, overtime period. The Wildcats secured the victory 45 seconds into the extra time when Abrahan Nuñez scored off another Garcia assist.
The defense played lights out in this tournament. Keeper Christian Hutchinson and defenders Jhan Vazquez, Brian Armenta, Yoriel Reyes, Lizardo Lemus and Michael Guzman allowed only one goal in 361 minutes played.
“I thought this was one of the best tournaments we've ever had,” head coach John Absalom said. “[The defense] is exceeding what we've expected at this time this year.”
The Wildcats saw shutouts in three straight games to begin their tournament run. Since the top of 2020, the Wildcats have allowed two goals in nine games.
Offensively, Palestine saw six different scorers throughout the tournament, which has forced teams to stretch their defense more than what teams customarily do.
“We're scoring by committee,” Absalom said. “I had a couple coaches say we're unpredictable. We're playing together as a unit. We're playing as a team. That's what's going to win us a state championship.”
Their tournament action opened with a 5-0 victory over Whitehouse followed by a 1-0 win over the Pine Tree Pirates. Palestine took down Life Oak Cliff, 1-0, before dismissing Kennedale 5-0 Friday afternoon.
The Wildcats take on MaxPrepss number-one state ranked 4A Pittsburg Pirates Friday in Pittsburg. The Wildcats currently sit number two in 4A in the rankings.
“We're going to get everyone's A game,” Absalom said. “Everyone wants to beat Palestine. We're going to get the best out of teams that night. We wouldn't want it any other way.”