GRAHAM — Brownwood kept No. 7 Fort Worth Castleberry off the scoreboard during the first half of Monday's Region I-4A girls soccer area playoff, but the Lady Lions were unable to hold on to a halftime advantage as their season ended with a 3-2 defeat.
“It's extremely difficult because we were the better team in every aspect of the game, “ said Lady Lions first-year head coach Andrew Stevenson. “We outworked them and we played better, we just couldn't get a break to go our way.”
Castleberry (20-3) was averaging 4.8 goals per game heading into the contest, and tallied 11 in their bi-district win over Springtown, but was unable to find the net in the first half.
The lone goal in the first half belonged to Brownwood (9-10) as Dusty Van Huss scored from 25 yards out on the right side following a cross from Aleyia Cotton with 1:53 remaining before intermission.
“The only thing we knew about Castleberry was the stuff you could find online,” Stevenson said. “We were able to look at their stats and who they played. We were a little nervous because we really didn't know who we were facing, but about 20 minutes into the game we realized we were the better team. To get that goal late in the first half cemented the idea that they were the better and we were going to come out on top.”
Unfortunately for the Lady Lions — who saw a handful of additional scoring opportunities in the first half sail just off the mark — their lead evaporated a mere 34 seconds into the second half when Michelle Gutierrez scored on a putback after Caitlin Buendia's shot deflected off the hands of Brownwood goal keeper Channing Barron.
“We definitely lost the momentum there, but the girls responded well,” Stevenson said. “The second goal didn't come until much later, so to give up that early goal and then hold them as long as we did was great.”
The score remained tied at 1 until 24:48 remained as Barron — who finished with six saves — charged a shot attempt, but Alysia Espinoza kicked the ball away before Barron secured a firm grip, which led to a 2-1 lead for Castleberry.
With 11:50 remaining, Castleberry tacked on its third goal on a 24-yard free kick by Leslie Guereca, which found the top left portion of the net.
Despite the deficit, the Lady Lions continued to scratch and claw their way back into the contest. With just over five minutes to go, it appeared Brownwood tallied its second goal on a breakaway by Cotton — but the Lady Lions were whistled for offsides, negating the successful shot.
With 1:49 left, however, the Lady Lions were able to collect their second goal when Miranda Guerrero headed in a corner kick from Carly Person. Though Brownwood pinned Castleberry's back to the goal during the closing seconds, the Lady Lions were unable to fire off a tying shot.
“They started finding their passing lanes, started to have more opportunities and started to believe again they were the better team,” Stevenson said of the Lady Lions' late surge.
Reflecting on the season — which included a 5-0 bi-district victory over Burkburnett this past Friday, Stevenson said, “We started strong, had some good wins against good teams, then we struggled a little bit in district but we gave all we could. We ended up getting a big win over Stephenville at home right before the playoffs and that was fantastic to watch and a great boost. Our seniors were incredible and I couldn't have asked anything more from the team.”