By Colin Bado, TSB Staff
For the first time in 13 years, the McKinney High boys soccer team is headed to the Regional Semifinal in Round Rock.
On Tuesday night, the Lions (18-3-5) went head to head against an elusive North Mesquite team in the UIL’s Class 5A Regional Quarterfinals at Ron Poe Stadium in McKinney. The physical bout resulted in a 1-0 victory for McKinney, sending coach Alan Pocock’s team to the “Sweet 16” round in a match versus Kingwood. Kingwood defeated A&M Consolidated 4-1 in a shootout after playing to a 1-1 draw in regulation and overtime.
Friday’s schedule at the Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex in Round Rock will have a distinctive McKinney flavor. The MHS-Kingwood match is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., following the conclusion of the McKinney Boyd-The Woodlands match at 4 p.m. Boyd also advanced Tuesday after an epic shootout win over Dallas Jesuit.
“It was a culminating process,” said Pocock. “We’ve been to five Regional Quarterfinals since 2005, only to hit a dead end. Finally we’ve gotten the monkey off our back.”
Early in the second half, in the 47th minute, Lions’ forward Dante Nunez worked the ball down the sideline deep into North Mesquite territory. Nunez crossed the ball and threaded the needle through two defenders, finding teammate David Soto. Soto struck the ball well and North Mesquite goalkeeper Ivanne Berumen managed to get a hand on Soto’s shot, but it wasn’t enough as the ball rolled into the back of the net. The lone goal would be enough to continue to Lions’ playoff run.
“It’s been a progression to get where we are,” said Pocock. “We know we can battle. A tough district in 5A enabled us to be in sharp form for the playoffs. We’ve worked through injuries, but we’ve also seen success after winning the Little Elm tournament and coming in second in the district.”
The hard-fought battle came down to the wire. North Mesquite left everything on the field as its players scrapped to create an equalizer. With 1:46 remaining in the match, a loose ball in front of the goal found the head of a North Mesquite player amongst the chaos. The ball deflected off and headed for the goal, but McKinney goalkeeper Quique Vicens made a brilliant save, assuring the Lions victory.
“I have to give a shout-out to the keepers. They’ve played great allowing no goals during the playoffs,” said Pocock.
Vicens and Rylan Whan have split time in net, with Whan working the first half and Vicens taking his turn in the second half. Before the match, Pocock said the success of the unconventional move has been validated by the lack of opponent’s goals during the playoffs.
During the first half, the tempo was set early as both teams transitioned up and down the pitch, aggressively seeking the go-ahead goal. North Mesquite’s Alberto Garcia earned a yellow card for a malicious tackle in the 12th minute. The early yellow card conveyed the physical play through the duration of the game as both teams fought for every inch.
Lions captain and midfielder Mikey Swim coordinated the set plays for McKinney High during the match, sending precision passes into the box with hopes of finding a teammate to put the ball away. North Mesquite keeper, Berumen continuously denied the Lions an opportunity to score during set plays as he repeatedly punched out balls that entered the 6-yard box.
With an ambitious effort, the Lions nearly took the lead in the first half after a barrage of shots nearing the 20th minute. Gerson Mendoza’s shot towards the upper left corner missed by inches, keeping the game tied at zero.
Midfielder Oscar Ocampo orchestrated North Mesquite’s offensive attack. Ocampo led the transition against the Lions’ defense in the 35th minute, when an allotted corner before the half nearly enabled the Stallions the lead as the passed ball was deflected over the cross bar. The Lions narrowly escaped a Stallion goal heading into half.
“During the second half, we were up against a stiff breeze,” said Pocock.
To add to their obstacles, the Lions were fighting an uphill battle against the North Mesquite defense and a headwind. Despite their hardships, the Lions’ conjured a goal off of Soto’s foot in the 47th.
Resilient in their efforts, the Stallions refused to give up. In the 50th minute, Juan Mendez lobbed the ball into the 6-yard box and it found its way over the Lion defense. Amidst a congested box, a Stallions’ forward volleyed the ball just wide of the frame.
A stout defense permitted the Lions a victory. They stood tough amongst adversity and warranted another shutout.
“I have to give a lot of credit to the seniors,” said Pocock. “They are professional. They don’t loose their composure, and they have great desire.”
Coming off five victories in a row, the Lions are determined to feed off of their recent success into the Regional Semifinal.
Photos by Sawyer Erickson.