STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
Luck, as many successful people and teams will say, is really when preparation meets opportunity, and that’s how Marble Falls High School boys head soccer coach Rick Hoover saw his team’s 4-2 shootout win over Conroe Caney Creek on April 2 in Bastrop.
The Mustangs and Caney Creek ended regulation time as well as two overtimes tied 2-2. This forced a penalty kick shootout. Marble Falls hit all four of their penalty kicks, while Caney Creek only struck on two.
Some might say the Mustangs got lucky, but Hoover pointed out his team was prepared for just such a situation as they end every practice by lining up for penalty kicks.
“The one thing I said was, ‘Put it on the frame,’” he recalled telling his team before the shootout. “Make the keeper make the save.”
Next up is the third meeting against Cedar Park High, a District 17-5A rival, in the regional quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at Liberty Hill High School, 16500 Texas 29 West. The teams each have one win against each other.
The penalty kicks against Caney Creek were scored by:
• sophomore Andrew Rodriquez, who put the ball in the upper right corner;
• junior forward Josiah Reyes, who found the center right;
• senior defender Bernabe Torres, who put the ball in the left corner after scoring both goals in regulation;
• and senior Crosby Wiswell, who found the upper-right corner.
Marble Falls senior goalie Michael Vasquez stopped Caney Creek’s second and fourth penalty kicks, putting the Mustangs into the next round of the playoffs.
“I was thinking I have to stop this,” he said. “I had the mindset of staying in front of them.”
Vasquez showed skill and determination well before when he shut out the Panthers in the final 28 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtimes. He relied on his experience and attitude to get him through this pressure-cooker contest.
“After every single kick, I got more and more confident,” he said. “After you stop one, you feel like you can stop all of them.”
Hoover said he didn’t give Vasquez advice or a pep talk before the shootout.
“I stayed away from him,” the coach said. “(I treated him) like a kicker in football.”
Earning the win wasn’t easy, especially considering at least two key players are out because of injuries and others are nursing bruises. Still, when it counted most, the Mustangs (20-3-5) found a way.
“It’s playoff soccer, and we made it to the next round,” Hoover said. “(Caney Creek’s) a heck of a team.”
What the scoreboard didn’t reflect is the mental toughness and heart Marble Falls displayed in advancing to the regional quarterfinals, especially after a challenging first half where Caney Creek (20-3-2) was gifted the lead.
It occurred with 50 seconds remaining in the first half. A Caney Creek player was awarded a penalty kick after he was knocked down in the penalty box. That call was difficult for the Mustangs, who thought they suffered a similar play three minutes into the game on the other end with no whistle.
“The penalty looked pretty picky,” he said. “It was a tough call in a tight game. We had one similar and hadn’t gotten it called.”
Marble Falls tied the contest six minutes 33 seconds into the second half when Torres, who runs a 4.3-second 40-yard dash, found the back of the net on an assist from Reyes.
Six minutes later, Caney Creek regained the lead on a tap-in off a ricochet.
Torres tied the game on a throw from goalie Vasquez, the keeper’s first varsity assist in four years, he joked. Torres scored from 25 yards out.
“He threw it to me, and I saw the shot,” Torres said. “I saw it go past the goalie’s gloves, and it goes in. They pressured me. I picked my head up. We needed to step up and put two goals into the net.”
Hoover’s message at the half was for his players to stop being passive and allowing Caney Creek to dictate pace and tone. The Panthers stepped into many passing lanes and looked a step faster to the ball. Hoover wanted a different mindset the remainder of the game.
“We took the game to them,” he said. “In the first half … we took the blows. In the second half, we delivered the blows. We hit them in the mouth and put them under pressure.”
Hoover said both teams used up their energy in regulation and two overtimes.
He credited his seniors for their leadership..
“They know what I’m thinking before I say it and vice versa,” he said.
“We don’t want it to end yet,” Vasquez said of the season. “We did it for our fans, family, and friends.”