When Aledo goalkeeper Konrad Garbowski stretched his body while diving to his left and extended his long arms out to stop an El Paso Del Valle shot in the shootout of the regional final match, the clock struck 13 for the Bearcats.
As the jubilant Bearcats raced on the field to mob their goalkeeper, they realized a dream no other Aledo boys’ team had experienced since 2005, 13 years ago.
The Bearcats will continue a remarkable playoff run on Thursday at the boys’ Class 5A state tournament in Georgetown. Aledo (24-0-4) will face Houston Wisdom (21-2-2) at 5 p.m. in the state semifinals at Georgetown High School.
Wisdom is the Region III champion.
The winner of the Aledo/Wisdom match will face the winner of the Pharr Valley View/Frisco Wakeland semifinal that follows the Bearcats’ match.
The boys’ 5A state championship match is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Not only did the ‘Cats defeat Del Valle, 4-3 (6-5 in shootout), for the Region I championship, but they accomplished the feat like they had in their four earlier playoff matches – they won by one goal.
Bearcats head coach Derek Vierling dubbed his special group the “Cardiac Kids” after a third-round, overtime win over Denton Ryan, recognizing his team had won by the slimmest of margins in all three playoff matches to that point.
So, what did he say Saturday following another one-goal win?
“Heart attack!,” he exclaimed. “I think our experience has really helped. Max (Owens) and Mickey (Maloney) and a few of the other seniors have now been involved in 10 playoff games.”
Vierling’s last regional final win came in 2005. That year, it was Del Valle that defeated the Bearcats in the state championship match. The coach was asked to compare how he felt after his latest regional title from the last one.
“It’s really incredible. So much fun,” he said. “I don’t know if you can compare these two. In 2004 we lost the regional finals and had the core of the team coming back so we really expected to make some noise in the playoffs in ‘05.
“Last year, losing 16 seniors and nine starters made entering this year full of questions. So, I think this year it’s kind of unexpected to have made this kind of run which makes it pretty exciting.”
Vierling, however, would like to have a chance to take it easy for once at the end of a match.
“It’s very concerning – I want to be comfortable at the end of the game instead of sweating bullets but that’s the playoffs,” he said. “Our guys have the experience of holding on and fighting and competing until the very end whether that’s regulation, OT or the shootout.”
The hard part for a coach concerning the state tournament is preparing to play an opponent they have not seen and know little about. This is especially true when a Houston team faces a D/FW team like Aledo.
“I am kind of going in blind right now – I’ve worked on getting information,” Vierling said. “But obviously they will be good – when there is only four teams left they are all going to be pretty good.”
Part of the reason Aledo has qualified for state is an athletic, fast and strong mid field, led by Owens, the Bearcats’ leading scorer.
“Max is such a good player and really runs the midfield for us,” Vierling said. “As a four-year starter his experience is invaluable. Plus, we have some really talented players that surround him. Micco (Little) has really stepped up and has contributed both offensively and defensively.
“Alfredo (DeCasas) has been such a rock at the holding bid role stopping and slowing down our opponents’ attack. Then to have the luxury of two great players like Connor (Steele) and Brandon (Wrinkle) to put on the flanks its awesome.
“Then to add the versatility of Simon (Schulz) to play any of the roles has really helped with our midfield depth. We will have to maintain that ball control and movement this weekend.”
Another strength – one that has been key to each one-goal win – is the play of Garbowski at goalkeeper and the Aledo defenders. Garbowski has allowed just seven goals in five playoff matches.
“What can you say about Konrad? What a phenomenal goalkeeper,” Vierling said. “He just keeps making saves and keeping us in games. He is so technically sound. One of the biggest reasons for our success has been the play of Noah (Knesek) and Lennart (Barron).
“They have been awesome, and then you add a four-year starter like Mickey back there and it just completes (the defense) with his leadership and experience.”
Vierling said there really isn’t any “star power” on the team. He pointed out it has almost been a different player who steps up in critical times that has extended this playoff run.
“You know, it’s really just been a team effort – one game its Brandon another game its Connor or Max making plays offensively,” he said. “Then Konrad makes a play or Mickey. It’s just been a team effort stepping up – we even have had several of the subs step up and make key plays.
“All 29 guys have contributed at some point this year in one way or another. They have all bought into the team concept.”
Bearcats path to state
- Bi-district: Bearcats 3, Denton Braswell 2
- Area: Bearcats 1, FW Arlington Heights 0
- Reg. qtrs.: Bearcats 3, Denton Ryan 2 (OT)
- Reg. semis: Bearcats 3, EP Bowie 2 (4-1 shootout)
- Reg. final: Bearcats 4, EP Del Valle 3 (6-5 shootout)
Houston Wisdom path to state
- Bi-district: Wisdom 4, Pearland Shadow Creek 1
- Area: Wisdom 4, Caney Creek 1
- Reg. qtrs.: Wisdom 3, Galena Park 1
- Reg. semis: Wisdom 2, A&M Consolidated 0
- Reg. final: Wisdom 2, Huntsville 1