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Paris survives shootout to keep district soccer lead

phighlogo1In a battle between the two District 19-4A boys soccer titans, the Paris Wildcats won a sudden death shootout, 5-4, over their main rivals, the Sulphur Springs Wildcats, Monday night at Wildcat Stadium and widen their tenuous lead over the defending district champions as the race nears the halfway point.

The shootout win gives Paris an extra point in the district standings (3 points for a win in regulation, 2 for a shootout win, 1 for a shootout loss).  The Lamar County Cats remain atop the district chart with 11 points, while Sulphur Springs is a close second at 9.  Although it was a tough loss for the Hopkins County team, they still hold district destiny in their hands with the rematch showdown set for March 7 at Gerald Prim Stadium.

Both squads pride themselves in tenacious defense and both entered Monday’s showdown having allowed no goals through three district matches.  Paris broke that spell midway through the first half on a goal by leading scorer Michael Cade.  Topside defender Zane Young won a battle for possession in midfield, and the ball bounced to his left where Cade was waiting to fire a shot from 23 yards out that skipped under the SSHS goalkeeper’s reach.

With 20:52 remaining until halftime, Paris (17-2-1) had a 1-0 lead, and it remained that way despite a half-dozen excellent scoring chances by the home team.  Paris kept the heat on the SSHS end of the field after halftime until a rare defensive lapse allowed the visitors to tie the game.

Paris goalie Jesus Hernandez was finally forced to make his first save of the night, but the Cat netminder shanked the goal kick and a SSHS player regained possession and dribbled through 3 Paris midfielders to get off a left-footed shot from 30 yards out that beat Hernandez to the far post.  It was just the 7th goal in regulation that Paris has surrendered all season, but it was a costly one.

A Paris win in regulation Monday would have gone a long way in locking up this year’s district chase.

The goal energized the SSHS attack and set up a frenetic final 10 minutes with each team threatening to break the tie.  Cade almost connected at the 10-minute mark, and fellow senior Blake Beshirs almost netted one 5 minutes later that was punched away by the goalie.  Then it was SSHS’ turn.  A free kick from 40 yards away hit the football crossbar, and a corner kick with 30 seconds left bounced out to the right wing where a player planted a rebound through the uprights.

With regulation ending in a 1-1 tie, each team designated 5 shooters to take alternating penalty kicks against the opponent’s goalie.  Paris lost the coin toss and was forced to shoot first in each round.

Cade and Beshirs scored the first 2 goals for Paris, but SSHS answered each time and the score was tied, 2-2.  Paris’ third shot drifted wide right, while SSHS found the net in round 3 to give the visitors a 3-2 edge.  That put pressure on senior Ben Whitaker in round 4, and he caught the SSHS goalie diving the wrong way and buried it to the left side.

The No. 4 SSHS shooter bounced one off the football crossbar to make the score tied, 3-3, heading into the final round.  Again, with the pressure on, senior Josh Kirby beat the goalie to the right post.  That put the pressure on the 5th SSHS shooter, and he elevated a shot just over Hernandez’ reach inside the left post.

With the shootout tied at 4-4, it was time for sudden death rounds, but, first, Paris made a strategic change of goalies, sending their captain Beshirs to defend the net.

Sophomore Alfredo Medina rolled his shot past the SSHS goalie inside the left post to give Paris the 5-4 lead.  With Beshirs in net, the 6th SSHS shooter sailed his strike over crossbar.  It was finally over.

Paris closes out the first half of the district round-robin Saturday with a 1 p.m. start at Wildcat Stadium vs. Princeton.

Paris also won the JV match, 1-0, over SSHS.