STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
In two playoff games in a row, it came down to a shootout. This time, however the Marble Falls High School boys soccer team fell short in the penalty kicks.
The Mustangs’ soccer season ended at the feet of the Cedar Park Timberwolves in a regional quarterfinal game at Liberty Hill High School on April 5.
The Timberwolves (14-4-4) edged the Mustangs (21-4-5) on a 2-1 penalty kick shootout.
“It just wasn’t in the cards,” Marble Falls head coach Rick Hoover said. “The Timberwolves are a really good, physical, big-skilled team. When it comes to penalty kicks, you can go to midfield and flip a coin because anything can happen.”
Marble Falls and Cedar Park battled it out to a 0-0 tie at the end of regulation and two overtimes, which forced the shootout. Both teams had their chances to score long before.
The Mustangs’ best chance in the first half came when the Cedar Park goalie blocked a shot and the ball ricocheted off him. But Marble Falls failed to follow the ball to the net for a tap-in.
In the second half, with eight minutes gone, a Mustang got the ball off a header and attempted a sidekick that was on target. The goalie mishandled the ball but crawled to it to make the save before the ball crossed the plane of the goal.
With under 10 minutes left in the game, the Mustangs continued to put the same offensive pressure on the Timberwolves defense. Cedar Park responded by not allowing a clear path to the goal.
Hoover pointed out that the Timberwolves had just as tough a time against the Marble Falls defense and goalie Michael Vasquez, especially during the best defensive stand of the game.
It occurred in the first overtime when Cedar Park had three shots off one possession. Vasquez blocked the first attempt, which was on the left. But Vasquez was too far to the left to protect the right side of the net. When the Timberwolves tried to exploit this, the Mustangs collapsed in front of the goal and kicked the second attempt back out. When the Timberwolves tried a third time, the Mustangs cleared the attempt by kicking the ball toward midfield.
With no scores in regulation and two overtimes, the teams went to the shootout. It was the second playoff game in a row that came down to penalty kicks for the Mustangs. On April 2, Marble Falls defeated Conroe Caney Creek in the area round in a shootout.
For the shootout against Cedar Park, Hoover, just like he’s done before, didn’t choose the shooters. Players stepped forward and put the season on their feet.
Marble Falls’s only goal was scored by senior Crosby Wiswell, who found the right corner.
The other attempts were over the net, stopped by the goalie, kicked into the left post, and kicked wide left.
“Some of the kids who missed are some of the most precise, accurate shooters,” Hoover said. “You want somebody who wants to take that kick. I’d pick the same kids.”
Marble Falls senior goalie Michael Vasquez, who blocked two kicks during the 4-2 shootout win over Caney Creek, blocked the first and third Timberwolves’ attempts. The second attempt was too high to the left. Another attempt was kicked toward the left middle, but Vasquez was moving to the right and could only get his hands on the ball, unable to stop it from going in. The other shot was cleanly scored to the left corner.
The Mustangs were down a couple of key players, but Hoover wasn’t making any excuses.
“(The available players) stepped up and played and filled the gaps. We played well enough to win. We had our chances, and they had their chances,” the coach said. “It was a heavyweight bout that went the distance.
“That’s part of playoff soccer. It’s a grind. It’s survival,” he added. “Who can keep the energy and who can make it work.”
In 14 regular-season matchups against Marble Falls, the Timberwolves lead the series 8-3-3, including going 7-0-1 from 2011-14. But since the 2015 season, Marble Falls is 3-1-2 in the regular season against Cedar Park.
Hoover, who is in his sixth season coaching the Mustangs, said the top objective of the entire athletic department is to get the players to believe they can compete with anyone on any day anywhere, no matter the how big the school is and how deep its roster.
“I preach that none of that matters,” he said. “I think we made the turn the last year. They no longer step on the field and hope to win; they step on the field expecting to win. That’s a shift in mentality, and it comes from hard work, success, and losses. We’ll learn from this loss, and our program will be better for it.”