Cardiac Kids, again.
Aledo goalkeeper Konrad Garbowski’s diving save during the eighth overtime shootout session gave Aledo a 4-3 victory (6-5 in shootout) over El Paso Del Valle Saturday afternoon in the Class 5A, Region I championship match at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls as the Bearcats will return to the state tournament for the first time in 13 years.
In five playoff matches, Aledo has won each match either in shootout or by a single goal. Shootout victories count as one goal, meaning the ‘Cats have won every playoff match this season by a goal.
“These guys, the guys I call the ‘Cardiac Kids,’ never give up, never give in,” Bearcats head coach Derek Vierling said. “They don’t know how to quit. They just keep going and never stop. It has been that way all year.
“They got a lot of heart, and even Del Valle’s coach told me that we out-hearted them. We got a lot of heart, got after it, and we beat a really good team. This is awesome.”
Senior midfielder Max Owens has spent four years on varsity, and he said it has been his life-long dream to play at the state tournament.
“I have been dreaming about this since I was six years old,” Owens said. “Right now, it is pretty hard to put it into words; I am so excited right now. It is in our DNA to win close games, to win in the clutch. Del Valle is a high-scoring team, but our defense stepped up.
“We finished our chances, and we held up defensively.”
As he did in Friday’s semifinal shootout win, Owens scored first in the shootout to give Aledo a 1-0 lead.
After Del Valle scored on its first shootout attempt, Alfredo DeCasas tweaked the twine for a 2-1 lead. Del Valle missed its next shot, but so did the Bearcats. Del Valle tied the match 2-2, and the five-shot session ended in a 3-3 tie as both teams scored with their fifth kickers, in Aledo’s case, Simon Shulz.
Noah Knesek and Micco Little each scored in the sixth and seventh frames, but Del Valle matched each goal.
In the eighth session, Kyle Maurer missed a shot, but officials ruled the ball blew off its mark and rewarded Maurer with another kick. This time the senior’s kick was true, and Del Valle needed to match the goal to extend the shootout.
Garbowski dove to his right and slapped the kick down as the Bearcats rushed the field to mob the German foreign exchange student as the team realized it was headed to the state tournament.
“The shooter was looking to his right the entire time,” Garbowski said. “So, I went to my left and got a piece of the ball. I can’t believe we are going this far in the playoffs. I would have never imagined that when I first joined the team.”
The game was tied, 2-2, after regulation, with each team scoring a goal against a wind that was steady at 35 miles per hour and gusting to 40-45 mph.
Both teams scored a goal with the wind at their back in the two 10-minute overtime sessions. Aledo took a 3-2 lead with 7:31 left in the first OT on a 30-yard goal by Owens on a free kick.
But in the second OT, Del Valle had the wind at its back and scored with 5:20 left in the second session.
The second OT ended at 3-3 as the match went to the penalty kicks shootout.
That set up the high-scoring, exciting shootout.
“It is incredible that we are going to state,” Mauer said. “I am senior, and as a senior you know going into any playoff game that the game could be your last. Knowing that I will get to play at least one more game with my buddies makes going state that much more fun.
“I feel we win these close games because of our communication on the field and because we work hard and work together. We know what we need to do, and we get it done. This is amazing.”
Wind conditions played a huge role in the match.
Despite going into a strong wind, Del Valle scored first in the opening half when forward Iram Baylon scored on a breakaway at the 19-minute mark.
Garbowski came up with three big saves in the next seven minutes, including a pair of diving saves and a jump save.
With 10:23 left in the first half, Aledo tied the match, 1-1, on a free kick from 20 yards by Owens, the Bearcats’ leading scorer. The score remained tied at 1-1 at the half.
Playing with the wind at its back in the second half, Del Valle took a 2-1 lead with 38:52 left to play on a breakaway goal from Jesus-Daniel Marquez.
But Aledo answered seven minutes later when after a deflection of a corner kick, the ball rebounded to Mickey Maloney in front of the goal, and the senior put the ball in the back of the wide-open net to tie the score, 2-2.
Del Valle almost won the game in regulation. With 2:55 left Del Valle had a shot three feet in front of the Aledo goal, but Garbowski made a diving save to keep the match tied. The score remained 2-2 after regulation play.
The Bearcats advance to the state semifinals, which will be played on Thursday at Georgetown High School. The match will be played at either 5 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. The UIL will announce tomorrow (Sunday, April 15) the seedings and game times of the boys’ Class 5A semifinals.