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By E. R. Bills
The Community News
In recent years the Azle Hornets had been something of a doormat for the Bearcats in district play, but Tuesday night they were clearly ready to change that. They attacked quickly and, within the first minute, had their first corner and first shot on goal–but senior goalkeeper Justin Breshears was not in the mood. He slapped the ball away authoritatively and it was cleared by sophomore defender Willie Maloney.
For the next several minutes, it was the Bearcats’ turn.
In the fifth minute freshman forward Chance Nevarez made a nice shot that caught the Hornet goalie out of position, but a lagging Hornet defender blocked the ball.
In the sixth minute junior midfielder Kyle Underwood fired from 20 meters out but missed wide right. Then the Hornets and the Bearcats seemed to slow things down and test one another for weaknesses. The Hornets were bigger and their offensive and defensive corps played good position, but lightning quick senior midfielder Rob Blowers and speedy junior forward Sherman Young gave them early fits, creating havoc in the Hornets defensive quarter. Underwood and senior midfielder Alex Branson controlled the middle of the pitch and Maloney anchored a solid defensive wall flanked by freshmen Daniel Wigley and Chris Snyder and shielded up front by sophomore defensive mid Gage Chamberlain.
In the 11th minute of play, sophomore outside mid Hunter Owens took a right-footed shot from the left side of the goal and missed just left. Three minutes later, Underwood fired from 25 meters out and the goalie tipped the ball over the crossbars. Underwood took the corner kick and the ball bounced out left where Owens collected it, repositioned himself and fired a line drive for the first score of the match.
With a 1-0 lead, Bearcat midfielders Owens, Bransom and Underwood sent a steady stream of well-placed thru balls that Blowers and Young both repeatedly came within inches of beating the Hornet goalkeeper to.
In the 34th minute the Hornets threw in to the Bearcats defensive third and it was quickly cleared by Snyder up to Underwood. Underwood carried the ball forward and passed down the middle to Maloney who had snuck up from the defense for a breakaway. Maloney fired one-on-one point-blank on the Hornet keeper, but the keeper made a brilliant save deflecting the ball right. Blowers chipped it to net on the first bounce and the Bearcats went up 2-0, which was the score at the end of the half.
The Bearcats started the second half the same way the Hornets started first. In the first 15 seconds Underwood fed Blowers wide for a quick shot, but the Hornet goalkeeper blocked it out for a Bearcat corner kick. Underwood’s corner was short and the Hornets cleared the ball.
In 57th minute Underwood fired a shot from 50 meters and ball deflected off the goalie’s hands. Bransom was rushing in and sent the bounce to net for the third Bearcat finish, Bearcats 3, Hornets 0.
The Hornets are a much-improved squad, but the Bearcats controlled the ball too well for them to get many legitimate scoring opportunities.
Maloney and Snyder were stabilizing forces on defense and Blowers, Young and Owens provided daunting firepower in the Hornets’ defensive third. Bransom, Chamberlain and Underwood managed the flow of the match and distributed the ball evenly.
The Bearcats aren’t as physical as they have been in seasons past, but they’re playing in concert and display marked improvement in feet-to-feet passing, pitch vision and general on-field communication.
Maloney attributes the improved flow to better possessions. “We’re moving the ball around well,” he said. “We’re controlling the pace and taking more shots.”
Bransom concurred. “We’re passing the ball better as a team,” he said. “We’re playing together and creating chances.”
When pressed for Friday’s game plan against Mineral Wells (in Mineral Wells at 8 p.m.), Bransom smiled. “We’re going to do what we do,” he said. “We’re going to play our game.”
That’s certainly what the Bearcats did Tuesday night.