JUSTIN — The 2019 Stephenville boys soccer team set a new standard of excellence for the Yellow Jackets of the future. Even so, it may have been impossible for the players to look past the pain of losing Saturday to think about that after they were eliminated in the Region I-4A championship game at Northwest ISD Stadium.
Defending state champion San Elizario (15-4-3) outscored the Yellow Jackets 4-2 to advance to the state tournament.
“After it heals, they’ll realize the success we had,” second-year SHS boys coach Taylor Smith said after the season-ending loss. “We wanted to change the (boys soccer) culture, and we set a standard and culture of what it means to be a Yellow Jacket.”
The Eagles will take on Palestine (32-0-2) in their state semifinal game at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at Georgetown High School. In the final 4A boys rankings posted online by MaxPreps, unbeaten Palestine was No. 1 in the state and the Eagles were No. 2. The winner of that game will meet either Comal Canyon Lake or Midlothian Heritage at 2:30 Friday to decide the state championship.
The Yellow Jackets’ 3-1 triumph over Clint on Friday in the regional semifinals sent the SHS boys into the regional final for the first time ever. They were attempting to go one step farther by earning their first trip to the state tournament to join the SHS girls.
The 2017 state champion Honeybees defeated Fort Worth Castleberry 6-0 in their regional title game just prior to the boys game to reach the state tournament for the second time in three years.
The 2016 Yellow Jackets were the last SHS boys soccer squad to reach the regional tournament level.
“I told them I was proud of them,” Smith said, who led the team to a 17-8-4 season record. “We fought hard, and even to the end we didn’t give up. I thought we were just as good as them. We didn’t have a couple of plays bounce our way.”
In the win over Clint, Jorge Gallegos scored two goals and Parker Plaxco picked up the third goal. Kevin Martinez recorded two saves, and teammate J.J. Saldana had one.
Clint had gained the early lead, 1-0, at the 22:21 mark in the first half before the Jackets tied it with 13:08 left and took a 2-1 lead with 3:12 remaining in the half with the two goals by Gallegos.
The Jackets, featuring senior goal keeper Alfredo Rocha, shut out the Lions the rest of the way. Plaxco’s goal came with 3:53 to go in the game.
“It’s really exciting. We’re making history,” Gallegos, a junior, said after Friday’s victory. “There are so many emotions going through my mind. Our work in the offseason is paying off.”
The two goals the Jackets recorded Saturday against San Elizario were by Saldana and Plaxco. Martinez got the assist on Saldana’s goal and Plaxco’s score came after teammate Isidro Manzano’s shot was bobbled and dropped in front of the goal.
“I’m very proud of us. I’m thankful I got to play with these guys,” senior Gerardo Campos, said Saturday after the team was eliminated. “I felt like we could have gone farther. They (San Elizario) are solid all the way around, and their bench is just as good. We had to play a perfect game and we didn’t.”
Saldana led the Jackets in scoring this season with 18 goals, followed by Gallegos with 16 and Kevin Martinez with 14.
Smith admitted that the Eagles were a stout opponent.
“They were good. They were very good,” he said. “The wind was a huge factor.”
The boys squad is losing 10 seniors — Adrian Meza, Christian Brown, Ethan Nehring, Isidro Manzana, Angel Luna, Luis Carrillo, Kevin Martinez, Andres Perez, Gerardo Campos and goal keeper Alfredo Rocha.
“It’s been a good group — my first,” Smith said. “They made a lot of sacrifices, and a lot of them had to work on the weekends. They were the heart and soul of the team, and and I’m proud of each and every one of them.”