Kilgore Starts Fast, Holds On Late To Defeat Wilmer-Hutchins + Advances To State Tournament
TYLER -- For the first 20 minutes of Saturday afternoon's regional championship game, it looked for all the world that Kilgore would have little resistance on its way to a berth at the UIL state soccer tournament.
The Bulldogs had a fight on their hands, despite grabbing an early two-goal lead and playing the majority of the second half with a man advantage.
It was a fight Kilgore ultimately won, 2-1, over Wilmer-Hutchins on a sun-splashed day at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
Kilgore (25-3-1) advanced to next week's state tournament in Georgetown for the first time since 2011, and will play Wednesday at either 4 or 6:30 p.m. from Birkelbach Field on the campus of Georgetown High School against an undetermined opponent.
"Anytime you have an opportunity to go down and compete in Georgetown for a state championship, it's going to be special," said Kilgore first-year coach Austin Walker. "But our focus is on the next game Wednesday. We're going to go out and prepare our best to get ready for that."
But in order to ensure themselves of another week, the Bulldogs had to withstand a pesky Wilmer-Hutchins (16-3-1) team that would not go away despite facing an uphill challenge throughout.
All three goals were scored in the first half, and once the final 40 minutes began, the game was played at a feverish pace with bumps and bruises becoming the norm on both sides.
"This was probably one of the roughest games I've ever played in," said Kilgore junior forward Christian Galvan, who gave the Bulldogs their first goal less than two minutes in. "I have a few knocks right now, so I'm going to take care of them real quick … go get in an ice tub, and hopefully get better."
In all, five yellow cards were issued -- four in the second half. The most critical occurred with 32:47 remaining in regulation when Wilmer-Hutchins' Saul Gonzalez, who was responsible for the Eagles' first-half goal, drew his second yellow card and was disqualified.
"We're a physical team and we love playing physical teams," Walker said. "We'll go body-to-body with anybody out there just because that's the way we like to play. We're a tough group and we're coming after you 100 percent, and we hope you do the same thing to us. Physicality is part of our game, and the more physical it is the better it is for us. We like to get in there and get after it. We say, 'play to the whistle, and that's it, nothing else.'"
Even with the man advantage, Kilgore couldn't extend its lead to two goals. Wilmer-Hutchins struggled to maintain possession on the Bulldogs' end of the field, but the Eagles had one final chance at the equalizer off a corner kick with just 38 seconds remaining.
But Kilgore's defense beat Wilmer-Hutchins to the ball, all but wrapping up the regional title.
"Get everybody up there and hopefully we get a head on the ball first to get it cleared," said Walker when asked about his thoughts leading up to the game's climactic finish. "They're going to bring everybody up, and we practice getting our head to the ball first and getting it cleared. And we came through, we practice how we play."
Kilgore began on fire, scoring barely a minute into the match when Galvan corralled a loose ball and blasted a shot past Wilmer-Hutchins keeper Marcia Noyola from about 25 yards.
"Coach came to us and said, 'hey, don't make this your last game. Try to go at them hard and see who comes out of it,'" said Galvan, who racked up five goals in Kilgore's three playoff wins on the week.
The barrage did not dissipate as Kilgore laid siege to the Eagles' net, blasting 17 shots in the game's first 20 minutes.
Kilgore pushed its lead to 2-0 with 21:42 remaining in the half when sophomore midfielder Yonatan Contreras received a beautiful pass from David Garcia on a breakaway, shot off the left post and put in the rebound attempt himself.
"We talked about it in the locker room," Walker said. "We're out here to go 100 percent all the time for the full 80 minutes, and that means we get at it right from the get-go. They just took it and ran with it. We had the ball and within the first (two minutes) got the first goal, and that's what we're looking to do every time. We're looking to have that quick start in every game. We got it today and it really boosted us."
Wilmer-Hutchins finally exuded life on offense, and cut the lead to a goal when Daniel Alvarado launched a 50-yard free kick to Kilgore goalie Tomas Tapia, who bobbled the catch, allowing Gonzalez to fire the loose ball into the net with 11:13 to play until halftime.
And just like that, Kilgore went into the locker room with its lead cut to a goal despite outshooting Wilmer-Hutchins, 17-4, in the first 40 minutes.
"(A two-goal lead) is the most dangerous lead you've got," Walker said. "We gave up one where a miscommunication happened, but they were really able to come back together, grabbed the bull by the horns and played through it. I can't say enough about how much work they've put in and how well they've done this whole year. We're excited to be going to Georgetown, that's for sure."