Palestine Uses Strong Second Half to Get to State Championship
GEORGETOWN – This is what Palestine envisioned.
The Wildcats came alive in the second half of the 4A state semifinal game against Progreso. They were more aggressive. They moved efficiently. They wore their opponent down.
After an underwhelming first half from both teams, Palestine took control on its way to a 2-1 victory on Wednesday.
“I thought my guys played great,” coach John Absalom said. “They came out hard, got after it. We had some chances that we didn’t put in the back of the net. We let them stick around and of course they got a goal late. We’ve got one more to go. Gotta get healthy. We’ve got a few guys probably banged up a little bit, but we’ll be ready for Friday.”
After falling in the regional quarterfinals last season, Palestine responded by thus far going undefeated in 2018. The Wildcats are 35-0 with one game left to play. They can win their second state championship after claiming the first in 2016.
“It’s just a great group of guys,” Absalom said. “They don’t ever get down. They don’t ever get rattled. Even though we gave up that goal late, I saw the senior captains out there kind of rallying around them. That’s what they’ve been doing all year. They play even keel.”
Javier Leonor fulfilled his role and the Wildcats’ go-to scorer. In the 46th minute, Leonor dribbled between three defenders to create space for a shot. He saw his opening and sent a line drive straight to the back of the net for the first goal for either team.
This came after a first half in which defense ruled. There were a combined five shots and only one save in the period. The Wildcats made an effort to become more aggressive in the second.
“They were trying to hammer a couple of our guys out there,” Absalom said. “We were trying to go down the middle to much. You can’t go down the middle against a 3-5-2. We had some good subbing going on in the first half and we just kind of wore them out. There was a lot more spacing for us to pass the ball in the second.”
That created opportunities for both Leonor and Daniel Sanchez. Sanchez scored in the 57th minute off a throw in from Paul Jenkins. Sanchez used his head to guide the ball through after it was deflected.
Progreso scored in the 75th minute when Hugo Hinojosa got a header from Omar Anguiano. Although the Red Ants (20-6) would get a couple more good looks, with one going just left of the goal, Palestine ultimately thwarted the comeback. Goalie Christian Hutchinson finished with three saves, including one in the final minute.
The Wildcats will play in the state championship against San Elizario at 2:30 p.m. Friday. After last season’s bitter taste, they are determined not to go out the same way.
“Kilgore really took it to us in the playoffs last year,” Absalom said. “After that match we talked about being totally dedicated and coming back this year. We have certain goals one at a time and we just wanted to get here to state. These seniors, they’ve been here four years and they want to finish this last one off for us.”