Wednesday, May 02, 2007

SPORTS>>Devils bow out of state in second to Wildcats

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville got past the first round of the 6A state playoffs with a 4-1 win over Little Rock Hall on Saturday, but found second-round opponent El Dorado to be much tougher on Monday. The Red Devils fell to the Wildcats 5-1 in the quarterfinal round, ending the best season of Jacksonville soccer in nearly a decade.

As was the case during the regular season, it was the scoring prowess of senior forward Manuel Alvidrez that gave Jacksonville its biggest boost. Alvidrez scored three of the four goals in the Saturday contest against Hall, and came away with the Devils’ only point against El Dorado.

It didn’t take long at all for Alvidrez to receive his first playoff goal in Saturday’s opener. The Warriors had the kickoff, but an interception by Mikey Rose also ended up as an assist, as Alvidrez took the pass from Rose and hit a rocket shot straight ahead for a goal 13 seconds into the first half. That would give the senior a place in the playoff record books for quickest goal scored in state tournament play. Alvidrez completed his hat trick in the first half, with Jimmy Polatsidis scoring the fourth and final goal for the Red Devils in the second half.

The only score for Jacksonville against El Dorado on Monday was a penalty kick for Alvidrez in the second half. The Wildcats went up 2-0 at the intermission with a pair of first half goals, and would repeat in the second half for two more shots good for scores that would put the game out of contention for Jacksonville.

The Red Devils end their season with an 8-3-7 overall record, up dramatically from last year’s 4-12 struggling effort. Jacksonville coach Leighton Canon says the team enjoyed a healthy dose of senior leadership throughout the season; a luxury he says will not be there next season.

“We’re losing nine seniors,” Canon said. “By the end of the season, we only had 13 players on our roster, so we are losing a whole lot. Hopefully with the season we just had, we will get interest from guys in other sports and maybe some younger guys.”

The departing seniors include standout goalkeeper Matt McCullough, whose strong play in front of the net helped lead to a very noticeable improvement in goals allowed from last season. Canon noted that Alvidrez’ performance throughout the season not only caught his attention, but the attention of every coach in the East Conference with a conference-record 30 goals for the season.

“We had a coaches meeting last week,” Canon said. “And all the coaches basically said he’s a man playing amongst boys. He led the conference in goals, and maybe the state. He definitely has the skill and knowledge to play on the next level in college.” Canon said. Alvidrez’ future probably will not be certain until mid-summer, after the state all star game in which he is expected to appear in.

While the personnel of the team itself is still not completely certain for the ’08 season, Canon did state that he will definitely return as head coach next year.

“We need a few more people maybe,” Canon said. “But we can win games and have a successful soccer program at Jacksonville High School, so I have decided that I will continue coaching a building up the program.”