Friday, April 22, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Late goal lifts Red Devils over SHHS

By GRAHAM POWELLLeader sportswriter

The Sylvan Hills boys’ soccer team gave the undefeated Jacksonville Red Devils their toughest test of the 5A-Central Conference season Thursday night in Sherwood, but the Red Devils got a much-needed boost from an injured co-captain and scored the go-ahead goal with less than 10 minutes to play to beat the Bears 3-2.

Jacksonville beat Sylvan Hills 5-1 in their first meeting of the season on March 29 at JHS, but the Bears (4-11, 4-5) did all they could to hand the Red Devils (9-0-1, 8-0) their first loss of the year on Thursday.

The Red Devils scored first less than five minutes into the match. With 35:53 to go in the opening half, Jacksonville’s Andrew McMasters scored from eight yards out to give JHS the early 1-0 lead. McMasters’ goal was set up by a well-placed Pablo Yoste Ramos pass, and McMasters broke loose behind the Sylvan Hills defenders and scored on the one-on-one shot.

The score stayed 1-0 until the 8:47 mark. Matthew Molden scored the game-tying goal for Sylvan Hills. Before Molden scored, he collided with JHS goalie John Hall in front of the goal.

The two were going after the loose ball when they collided into one another.

Molden flipped over Hall after the collision, and so did the ball. Realizing the prime opportunity to score, Molden quickly got up and tapped it into the net, tying the match at 1-1. Jacksonville, though, regained the lead less than four minutes later.

With 4:52 left until halftime, Ramos booted a left footer into the SHHS net from 12 yards out, which set the halftime margin at 2-1 in Jacksonville’s favor.

The scored stayed at 2-1 for the majority of the second half, but an unlikely penalty kick tied it up with 15:32 left to play.

From 40 yards out, Tito Mendoza booted a penalty kick from the left side of the field that roped its way high and into the upper portion of the JHS goal, tying the match at 2-2. With the score tied late, JHS coach Donny Lantrip put senior co-captain Illijah Carter into the match for the first time with 11:48 to play.

It was the first action Carter saw this week. He’s been nursing an injury, and was therefore held out of the team’s 5-0 win over Beebe on Monday. Lantrip would’ve also preferred not to play him on Thursday, but the Red Devils needed a boost, and they got just that from their senior co-captain.

Carter chased down a loose ball in the right corner on Sylvan Hills’ end of the field. He dribbled past one Bear defender and made a precision pass to teammate Fernando Barrientos near the front of the goal, and Barrientos finished the play by plugging in the go-ahead goal with 9:47 remaining, which ended up setting the final score of the highly-competitive conference match.

“He’s a game changer,” said Lantrip of Carter. “That’s just what he is. He’s a leader of our team. I wanted to sit him. He didn’t play against Beebe and I wasn’t going to play him tonight. I had decided just to get him ready for the PA game on Monday, but he’s a game changer.

“He’s going to make things happen and we know that, and we feel more comfortable with him on the field. He’s our captain, leader. Everybody’s comfortable when he’s out there. He runs the show and he’s a big asset to us.”

With a 3-2 lead, Carter exited the match with 5:18 remaining, and the Red Devils thwarted the Bears’ opportunities in the final minutes to preserve the win. It was a tough loss for the Bears, but they played much stronger on Thursday than they did the first time they played Jacksonville last month.

“These guys are the best offensive team we’ve played in the conference,” said SHHS coach Sam Persson of Jacksonville. “These guys hurt you in a lot of ways and I thought our guys stood up under the pressure. There’s been a lot of progression and it’s not a progression in talent because we’ve had the talent.

“But it’s a progression in experience, mainly understanding what you have to do to stay in games. So, the level of focus has had to go up. The level of effort has had to go up, and understanding that your time on the field is valuable. We’re starting to play a little bit toward our talent level.”

One area of improvement that stood out to Persson was the play of his defenders, including goalkeeper Raul Trejo, who had 21 stops Thursday, not including the several occasions he cleared the ball in traffic when Jacksonville threatened.

“He started out with very little experience,” Persson said of Trejo. “He’s short and doesn’t have a lot of experience. So, that’s two strikes against you as a goalkeeper. Experience and height are two of the most important things, but he’s overcome that. He’s a great athlete. He’s our fastest guy running in practice. He runs his two miles in 12 minutes flat, and he comes out and does that every day.

“He wants to be there. He wants to be in the moment, and with the experience (he’s gained) he’s been able to come off his line quicker. That means our defenders don’t have to sweep up as much. It takes a lot of character and, I mean, he’s a great kid.

“I’m excited about his development and also the two guys at the back, Eric (Givens) and Devin (Amarsi) – by far the best game that they’ve played this season.”

As for the Red Devils, they sort of limped their way into Thursday night’s conference game. But Lantrip is hoping his crew can overcome that and finish the season as strong as they started.

“Tonight was a challenge with us sitting Pop (Carter) out,” Lantrip said, “and Giancarlo Nino’s out, Pablo Trujillo’s out, Ben (Foshee) is out for the season and he’s a starting defender. We’re banged up, but we’ll come back and get rehydrated and get ready for PA at home and go from there.”

The Red Devils and Bears won their conference games on Monday as well. Jacksonville beat Beebe 5-0 at Beebe High School, and Sylvan Hills beat J.A. Fair 6-2 in Little Rock. They’ll both play again this coming Monday.

The Bears will play a nonconference game at Little Rock Catholic and Jacksonville will play conference co-leader Pulaski Academy (6-2, 6-0) at Jan Crow Stadium.

The winner of that pivotal matchup will take over sole possession of first place in the 5A-Central. Both boys varsity matches this Monday start at 7 p.m.