MINERAL WELLS – The Granbury Pirates’ trademark defense kept them in the Class 4A Region I quarterfinal soccer match against Wichita Falls Rider Tuesday.
In the end, however, Rider escaped with a 2-0 victory, scoring twice in four minutes early in the second half, ending the best season for the Pirates in a decade.
With the wind at their backs, the Raiders had numerous scoring opportunities in the first 40 minutes. However, the Granbury defense prevailed, stopping shot after shot, to preserve a 0-0 halftime score.
“We thought we had it when they had not scored even with the wind helping them,” said Granbury’s Christian Gamez, a junior. “We knew all we had to do was hold them in the first half and we’d be in good shape, and we did that.
“Much respect to that team. I hope they make it far.”
Rider (22-5-2), the 2012 state runners-up, got off nine shots in the first half, including several from point-blank range. Granbury goalkeeper Julio Moreno deflected several that came within inches of penetrating the net.
“Our coach (Doug Kissinger) said we had an excellent first half,” said Moreno, a senior. “We felt pretty good, like we were going to come back and win it in the second half.
“But in the end you’ve got to credit Rider.”
Christian Okeke of Rider found a gap in the fifth minute of the second half and scored unassisted from 16 yards out. Four minutes later, he took a throw-in from Kaleb Laughlin and scored again.
“I knew we had the capability to score in the second half,” said Rider’s Brandon Williams. “It was frustrating in the first half not winning balls that we should have.
“We had the wind, and we felt like we should have had the lead. We were being a little lazy, but Granbury was also playing great defense.”
Ten minutes later Laughlin received a red card and was ejected, leaving the Pirates with a man advantage for the final 22:32.
Then, it was the Rider defense that rose to the occasion.
Granbury (20-4-5), which had managed just three shots to that point, got off four after the ejection, but none were able to result in goals. Rider matched them shot-for-shot in that span, including Okeke having one bounce off the goal post.
“It was a battle to keep our heads after Kaleb went down with the red card,” said Williams. “He’s a longtime friend, but sometimes he goes off on his own, and even though we survived this game, we won’t have him for the next game.
“But we held ourselves in shape today, and we’ll see what happens.”
Rider was playing Amarillo in the regional semifinals yesterday at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls.
“Knowing what they were capable of, it felt good being tied 0-0 at the half after we’d been going into the wind,” said senior Matt Rose of the Pirates. “And those last 22 minutes everybody was going all-out.
“It seems like when you’re down in crunch time everybody gets an extra burst of energy, but I guess they did as well as us.”
Pirate freshman Freddy Espinoza added of the final minutes, “Those last 22 minutes we tried and tried, but they sat strong.
“And we couldn’t get anything going on offense in the first half because of the wind. The wind was a big factor today.”
Kissinger said he believed if his team could have found a way to score late, they could have at least forced overtime.
“We just needed to get that one. If we’d gotten one, I think we would have gotten two,” he said. “And then we would have had the momentum and a man advantage.
“Freddy had a great shot on goal. I’d have put money on it that it was going in. Ryan (Hammonds) had a great header. We had chances.
“I felt Rider would be in our defensive third (in the first half). For us to survive 40 minutes of attacking pressure is a great credit to our defense, which played great. Julio was outstanding.”
The 2013 season ended with the Pirates being only the second GHS soccer team to win 20 games in a season, surpassed only by the 21-1 record of the 1999 state champions. Their 14 shutouts, using a two-goalie system of Moreno and Patrick Kirby (also a senior) each game, are also second to the 15 the 1999 team posted.
The Pirates were 16-1-3 over their final 20 games.
“They shouldn’t have their heads down. From how we started to how we finished, we were a completely different ballclub,” said Kissinger.
“It was one heck of a season.”
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Class 4A Region I Boys Sectional Soccer Playoff
Granbury 0 0 – 0
WF Rider 0 2 – 2
Rider goals (assists) – Christian Okeke (unassisted), Okeke (Kaleb Laughlin).
Records – Granbury 20-4-5, Rider 22-5-2.