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Paris moves to a gaudy 21-3-1 for the season and 8-1 in district play and now lead the district standings with an insurmountable 24 points (3 points awarded for a regulation win, 2 for shootout win, 1 for shootout loss). Second-place SSHS (6-3) stands at 18 points with just one round of matches remaining in the regular season. Paris closes out district play on March 20 following a Spring Break layoff with a match at third-place Princeton.
SSHS needed a win Friday to keep Paris from clinching its second district title in three years. Mindful of that fact and buoyed by pre-game Senior Night festivities, the Hopkins County Cats took the initiative in the match’s opening minutes, but Paris’ steel-gate defense proved impenetrable.
Then the Wildcats’ trio of Ouchita Baptist signees combined to produce the opening goal. Josh Kirby won a battle for possession along the right wing and passed to the center of the field where Blake Beshirs was waiting just outside the 18-yard box. Beshirs dribbled into the box where three SSHS defenders converged. Beshirs hurdled over onrushing goalkeeper Moises Torres, but Michael Cade was alertly following the play and stroked the rebound inside the left upper 90 of the SSHS goal.
The ice-breaker came with 31:06 left in the first half and immediately forced the hosts into desperation mode. Paris would eventually notch its 20th shutout in regulation, so SSHS knew that getting an equalizer goal would be close to mission impossible against a defense that features senior Zane Young as the midfield defender, senior Jackson Reeves and sophomore Freddy Medina on the wings and all-state candidate junior Leo Gutierrez backing up senior goalie Angel Rocha.
Rocha only had to make one serious save all evening. It came with about 10 minutes before halftime when he swatted away a free kick from 40 yards out that was headed to the right upper 90.
Paris also did a much better job of controlling play in midfield, an issue in the teams’ earlier match 18 nights ago at Wildcat Stadium. SSHS managed to notch the only goal given up by Paris in regulation during district to send that match to a shootout which Paris won. Midfielder Jose Escobedo played a big role in the rematch to keep SSHS from clogging up midfield with a defender marking Beshirs (a team-leading 18 assists).
Play began to get physical with officials allowing contact on both sides, and as the match proceeded, it became testy and heated. Near the end of the first half, a double yellow warning card was issued against a player on each side.
Paris responded by exerting some big offensive pressure on the left flank with Beshirs, Cade, Edgar Alvarez, Jesus Ruiz, and Dylan Kresen pushing the attack. Torres left the goal to turn back a rush by Kresen and the ball was sent into a pileup in front of the net where Kirby footed it into the goal for a huge 2-0 lead just 5:29 before halftime.
The lead expanded to 3-0 on a well-designed coast-to-coast breakout 13 minutes into the second half. Gutierrez started the counter-attack with a pass to Beshirs that began a skillful 5-on-2 breakaway. Beshirs flicked the ball inside to Cade, who returned it to Beshirs, who worked an “X” switch with Kresen to swing the attack to the deep left flank. Kresen caught up with the pass and left-footed the ball across the goalmouth where both Ruiz and Kirby were perched on the far post. Ruiz was the inside attacker and sent the ball into an open goal from point-blank range.
With 27:12 left in the contest, the district title was all but wrapped up. The finishing bow came with 17:53 remaining. Senior Ben Whitaker sent a through ball from midfield to Beshirs on a a run down the left wing. Torres came out for the tackle, but Beshirs kept control of the dribble and squared up for the strike into a now-deserted goal.
Paris coach Jeremy Beshirs (92-19-10 during his five years at the helm) began emptying his bench soon afterwards.
The Paris goals scored were the 26th of the season for Cade, 19th for Beshirs, 12th for Kirby, and 7th for Ruiz. Cade now has 55 career goals, while Beshirs stands at 52 for his career.