Although winning a soccer match by one goal is not uncommon, winning three consecutive high school state playoff games by a goal goes beyond the norm.
That has been the path of the Aledo Bearcats, who for the first time in 13 years have advanced to the regional semifinals after winning playoff games by the counts of 2-1, 1-0 and 2-1, the latter in overtime.
The Bearcats (21-0-4) will face the El Paso Bowie Bears (17-4-1), the District 1-5A champion, in a regional semifinal match at 3 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls.
The winner will advance to the regional final and face the winner of the Wichita Falls Rider/El Paso Del Valle semifinal which will be played following the Aledo/Bowie match.
The regional championship match is set for 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Bearcats reached the regional tournament by defeating Denton Braswell, 2-1; Fort Worth Arlington Heights, 1-0; and last week, 2-1 in overtime, in the regional quarterfinals over Denton Ryan.
It was after the Ryan match that Bearcats head coach Derek Vierling dubbed his team the “Cardiac Kids” after the third straight one-goal win. Aledo, which has not trailed in the playoffs, also had the strange circumstance in the Ryan match of going against a very strong wind in both halves due to a lightning delay and a cold front coming into the area during the delay.
“They are the Cardiac Kids because they keep giving me a heart attack by keeping the games so close,” Vierling said. “They just keep finding ways to win. They are so coachable – we have played three different formations this year switching game to game and sometimes half to half.
“Resilient is a great way to describe them. They never quit or lay down.”
Vierling said he is not concerned that his team has scored just five goals in three playoff games.
“I think most playoff games are going to be pretty low scoring and tight – I think it’s just how it goes the deeper you get into the tournament (playoffs),” he said. “Obviously, we would love to score more but we are scoring enough, and a couple of our top goal scorers have been a little bit cold, so they are due.”
One reason the coach may not be worried is the outstanding play of his defenders and goalkeeper Konrad Garbowdki, who has allowed just two goals in three playoff matches.
“Defense wins championships, right? We have three senior defenders playing at a high level and that really helps – especially with such an outstanding goalkeeper like Konrad,” Vierling said. “If they (opponent attackers) slip through the cracks he does a great job of maintaining the last line of defense.”
Bowie has outscored its three playoff opponents by a combined score of 5-1, including two shutouts. Because of location and the fact that El Paso teams rarely if ever travel to the Metroplex for January tournaments, not much is known about those teams.
Vierling said he has watched some film on the Bears and talked to coaches in West Texas he knows who may have seen Bowie play.
“It looks like they are very organized, have a great goal scorer up front and play solid defense,” he said. “Luckily, after 20 plus years I know a few guys that work out there and I’m tracking down as much info as I can.”
Four years ago, a dejected Vierling walked off the field at Cleburne in the district finale with a team that did not qualify for the playoffs. He vowed the Bearcats would be back, and the last two years the team has made the playoffs but fallen in the second round in ’16 and in the regional quarterfinals (third round) last season.
What made 2015 so difficult for the coach was the success the team had leading up to that point.
“This feels incredible,” he said. “When you first go deep in the playoffs like we did back in ‘04 and ’05 (state title match) you take it for granite and think you will just keep going. We had a really strong group in 2010 and 2011 and went four rounds deep (UIL had an extra round back then) but ran into Midlothian both years and came up short.”
This year, the Bearcats have taken the next step.
Vierling said the players themselves should receive credit for “buying into the system” and playing unselfish roles.
“This group has such great chemistry,” Vierling said. “They all have bought into the idea of playing for each other and that everyone contributes in some way – whether it’s practice or the game. There is no selfishness in this group.
“It’s made it really fun to be a part of.”
Bearcats stats (including playoffs)
- Max Owens 16
- Brandon Wrinkle 15
- Kyle Maurer 12
- Micco Little 7
- Max Owens 16
- Kyle Maurer 11
- Micco Little 5
- Brandon Wrinkle 5
Semifinals (Friday, Memorial Stadium Wichita Falls)
- Aledo vs El Paso Bowie 3 p.m.
- WF Rider vs El Paso Del Valle 5 p.m.
Final (Saturday, Memorial Stadium)
- Aledo/Bowie winner vs Rider/Del Valle winner 12:30 p.m.