MINERAL WELLS — Tuesday night wasn’t the first time soccer standout J.J. Saldana had been hoisted into the air by his teammates, but the stakes were a little higher this time.
The sophomore scored his team’s two goals to help the state-ranked Stephenville Yellow Jackets rally from a 1-0 deficit and post a 3-1 triumph over Fort Worth Western Hills in the Class 4A area playoff round at Ram Stadium.
Saldana said that he had experienced being raised into the air by soccer teammates before, but that was two years ago in a youth soccer league when he was living in California.
The win catapulted coach Taylor Smith’s Jackets into the third round (regional quarterfinals) of the playoffs against Fort Worth Castleberry. The Lions advanced with a 2-0 area playoff win over Graham.
The winner of the SHS-Castleberry battle will move to the regional semifinals (fourth) round, against either San Angelo Lake View or Clint.
The Jackets were coming off a tight win over Burkburnett in the bi-district playoff round. That game was tied at the end of regulation and the two 10-minute overtime periods, but the Jackets won by a 4-3 margin in the shootout.
“This was the same thing as the Burkburnett game. When things got against us, we kept fighting,” Smith said. “We didn’t quit on ourselves.”
The Yellow Jackets are scheduled to take on Fort Worth Castleberry at 5 p.m. Friday, April 5, at Aledo High School.
The Cougars had taken a 1-0 lead at the 30:33 mark in the second half.
Saldana’s first goal tied it at 1-all, with 6:05 left in regulation.
Then, with 4:48 to go in the first overtime, Salada found the next again to give the Jackets the lead, 2-1.
SHS senior Kevin Martinez provided the final goal for a cushion in the second overtime, putting the Jackets on top 3-1 with 7:26 remaining.
“Once they scored, I wasn’t going to let the team down,” Saldana said after the game. “I told everybody to pick their heads up. We never gave up. It was amazing. It was fun.”
Smith said the team’s off-season conditioning program likely made the difference in getting past Western Hills late in the contest.
“On to the next one,” Smith said. “Castleberry is very good, but we are capable of beating them.”
In the latest Class 4A boys state rankings on MaxPreps online, the Jackets are No. 24 and Castleberry is 28th. The Lions are 16-8-1 on the season, and were 10-2 as the District 8-4A champion. Western Hills was the fourth-place team out of that district, at 7-5 and 13-9 overall.