It’s fair to say the Gainesville Leopards soccer team carried the majority of the play in their Class 4A regional quarterfinal matchup against Castleberry.
Gainesville opened the scoring with a Angel Galvez goal, but Castleberry scored with just under four minutes remaining in the first half to tie the game.
The Leopards had their chances in the second half. Unfortunately, they couldn’t take the lead and were forced to battle it out in overtime.
Gainesville threatened several times to win it, but couldn’t put the final nail in the Castleberry coffin so each team got their chance to win the game in penalty kicks.
Each team scored on its first opportunity. However, the Leopards were stymied on their next two shots before missing their fourth kick to give Castleberry the 2-1 victory Friday, April 2, at Porcupine Stadium in Springtown.
When the final shot was missed, many of the Gainesville players collapsed on the field in disbelief and disappointment.
Head coach Danny Franco said it was frustrating losing via penalty kicks after feeling the Leopards were the better team the rest of the match.
“I’m disappointed for the seniors and the guys that put in all the work and effort,” Franco said. “To lose like this is just a punch to the gut. It’s the hardest way to lose because it comes down to chance. It’s more like a 50-50 chance. It’s not about who played better and this and that. It’s a tough pill to swallow. I thought for sure we were the better team.”
Gainesville went against the wind in the second half, which was an advantage for Castleberry. Franco said his team did well to not cede many chances as the game progressed.
“The first half, I thought we dominated and were creating chances, but we were being too passive defensively,” Franco said. “We tried to play too safe. I told them to keep being patient and release the ball, but after the first half, we were able to keep them in check. We played well and busted our tails off the whole game.
“When you play against the wind, it comes down to effort because the wind acts as another player. It comes down to running, wanting it more and fighting for every ball that you can.”
The Leopards did squander a few crucial opportunities to score, especially on free kicks. Gainesville had a free kick in the second overtime period just outside the box, but its bid on goal sailed high over the crossbar.
“You can’t let those opportunities slip away from you,” Franco said. “I felt like we were too wasteful at times with corner kicks and free kicks. We had been good in those areas all season long that it’s frustrating to let them go to waste when it mattered.”
Franco said his team continued to apply pressure in overtime despite tired legs, but knew the Leopards bypassed some crucial chances to win the game.
Gainesville did have some experience in penalty kicks earlier in the season, but performing when the pressure is on is a different story.
Franco said he had confidence in goalkeeper Hector Lozano, but in the end, it was the Castleberry keeper that made three saves to salt the game away.
“I knew we had a chance, but it just comes down to the keeper reading the shots and the shooters putting it where it needs to be out of the keeper’s reach,” Franco said. “It’s a tough way to lose. It’s a different situation when you know you don’t have another game to play.”
Gainesville was without its top goal scorer Gabriel Nevarez, who broke his wrist in a 3-0 win over Benbrook in the area round. Gainesville was also missing several other important pieces due to injury.
The district-champion Leopards finished the season at 20-4 and after not being able to compete in the playoffs last season, this season’s abrupt ending is difficult to accept, Franco said.
“You know for the seniors that it might be the best competitive game for some of them,” Franco said. “It’s tough to have the season end like that with not having an opportunity to play another game and make it to state. I know the talent we had and the seniors that did everything for us. I feel bad that it had to end this way.”
Reach Patrick Hayslip at email@example.com and Twitter at @PatrickHayslip