Stephenville High School’s boys soccer team has already stepped up to a higher level of play recently, and the Yellow Jackets are about to get a boost with the return of some key players as they head into the third round of postseason play.
The District 4-4A champion Yellow Jackets downed Clint Mountain View 5-1 Monday in their Class 4A area boys playoff contest at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland, and will now advance to the Region I-4A semifinals. Kevin Martinez scored three goals for a hat trick and J.J. Saldana provided the other two goals for the Jackets.
“We’re playing at the highest level we’ve played all year,” said SHS boys head coach Taylor Smith, who is in his first year as a coach. “We’ve got a chance to make a real run if we stay healthy.”
The Yellow Jackets opened the playoffs with a 2-0 victory over Burkburnett Friday at Newton Stadium in Graham in the bi-district round.
The Jackets are 19-7 on the season entering their playoff Friday against Bridgeport, which advanced with a 4-0 win over Clint High School. That showdown versus Bridgeport will be played at the Aledo High School field, but as of press time the starting time had not been set.
The Jackets had a slow start in district play, but came on strong to earn the No. 1 playoff seeding out of the four-team district alignment. They have won seven consecutive games, and have outscored their last six opponents by an overwhelming 21-3 margin.
The Jackets got unexpected happy news when they learned that Jorge Gallegos — the player who had been the team’s leading scorer early this season and had been believed to be out for the season with an eye injury — was given medical clearance to rejoin the active roster. He played some against Mountain View, but needs time to get back into playing shape before he is able to play a full game, Smith said.
Another top SHS scorer, Eliut Reyes, who has missed a couple of games when he was suspended as a result of penalty cards, will be available to play Friday.
Ivan Cabrera had the highest scoring average among Stephenville’s active players entering the playoffs, but was sidelined with a knee injury with just seven seconds left in the first half of the Burkburnett game. He sat out the Mountain View game as well. Smith said Cabrera was scheduled to return to his doctor and have an MRI on Tuesday, and could be available to return to action against Bridgeport if he gets a medical green light.
The Jackets held a slim 1-0 lead at halftime against Mountain View, and that goal came with less than two minutes left in the half. Smith said his players may have started the game nervous and hesitant. But, as Smith noted, the floodgates opened after intermission and they recorded their other four goals goals in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
“We got in our groove,” Smith said. “We settled down. They (the Bulldogs) came out aggressive. They (the Bulldogs) did a pretty good job early in the game, directing the game.”
After fending off the early onslaught, the Jackets began to control the tempo of play.
GRAHAM — Kevin Martinez and J.J. Saldana scored the goals for the Jackets in the 2-0 victory over Burkburnett, but the teams had a scoreless first half.
Martinez scored on a penalty kick to the left of the Bulldogs’ goalkeeper’s outstretched arms at the 10:30 mark in the second half.
“Kevin had a breakout game,” Smith said. “He has established himself as a tier one player."
Saldana’s goal found the back of the net at the 4:06 mark.
“It was pretty exciting,” Martinez, a junior in his third season on the varsity, said of his goal against Burkburnett. “It was my first playoff goal in my high school career.
“It was a physical game. We knew coming in it would be a physical game.”
One Burkburnett player was tossed from the game late in the second half when he was given a red card for something he said. But the Bulldogs were even rougher with their style of play than with their language. Martinez noted that the Jackets followed what coach Smith had advised them to do, stemming from what the coach learned when Stephenville defeated Burkburnett early this season in non-district play.
“We listened to coach Smith. He said don’t retaliate,” Martinez said. “We knew we were going to advance to the next round. We stayed calm and did what we had to do.”
The recent winning trend, plus the fact that the Jackets defeated Bridgeport early this season in the Knights of Columbus tournament in Stephenville, has the Jackets excited. Smith said he let his players know that “we have a goal and we have the talent to make a run all the way to state.”
Smith added that Bridgeport is ranked among the state’s top five teams, and is “probably one of the one or two best teams we’ve played all year. We’re going to have to play at our top level to beat these guys.”