GRAHAM — “It was too big of a hole to climb out of.”
Those were the words of Brownwood Lions soccer head coach Scott Swanzy as he reflected on Friday night's 4-3 bi-district playoff loss to the Graham Steers.
In a rematch of Brownwood's 4-3 victory in the pre-district finale, Graham raced out to a 3-0 halftime lead, then fought off a feverish Lions' rally down the stretch.
“It was a very frustrating first half, but I sure loved the way we finished,” Swanzy said. “At the very end, to get the ball sent in and people running in and trying to get their head on the ball at the very end to tie it up, that's what it is to be a Brownwood Lion.”
Down three goals at halftime, the Lions (1-14-1) answered with a pair in the first 10 minutes of the second half. First, at the 34:57 mark, Enrique Hernandez scored from 30 yards out. Then, at the 31:35 juncture, Ben Fitzgerald emerged from a cluttered mass just in front of the goal and punched in the Lions' second shot, trimming the Graham (7-14) cushion to 3-2.
“We wanted to connect several passes in the midfield and have our forwards run to the corners and exploit that space,” Swanzy said of the second-half offensive burst. “They were giving us that all night and if we would have exploited it we probably would have had more crosses and attempts on goal. There was space outside and finally we found it.”
Clinging to a one-goal lead, the first of Graham's two second-half penalty kicks was turned away by Lions' goal keeper Tanner Roberts with 24:15 remaining.
“He stepped up on the first PK and stopped it and kept us in the game,” Swanzy said.
Graham's second penalty kick attempt, with 18:33 to go, was successful, however, as the Steers extended their advantage to two goals.
“Penalty kicks in the box are so questionable,” Swanzy said. “Sometimes you get bad calls, and sometimes a bad situation happens to you and you don't have time to worry about it or fret about it.”
With 2:32 to go, Hernandez recorded his second goal on a header, which kept the Lions' hopes alive to the final buzzer.
“You just have to keep fighting all the way to the end,” Swanzy said. “We had a chance all the way to the end. We came up short, and I hate it for the seniors, hearing them cry. They put a whole bunch of work into this and sometimes young men need to cry. It's a release of a lot of tension and emotions.”