By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
Dallas-area teams play a rugged, aggressive brand of soccer, with constant offensive pressure and stifling defense.
Belton has seen this in past years and even this season, at the National Elite Prep Showcase in the DFW-area and against Rockwall down at McNeil in January.
The Lady Tigers were unable to overcome an injury to top-scorer Aubrey Martinez, just 14 seconds after her goal put Belton on the board. Rowlett’s rough play, controversial tying goal with 19:33 remaining in regulation and goal with 7:37 remaining in the second overtime gave them a 2-1 win over the Lady Tigers at Tiger Field last Thursday night.
The bi-district round loss ended Belton’s season at 15-5-1.
Rowlett ramped up the pressure from the opening whistle and put two clean shots on goal that Courtney Dippel saved and a third shot that Mattie Krenek blocked in the game’s seventh minute.
The Lady Eagles’ fourth attempt on goal was a crossing pass by Meagan Chase that was intercepted by Dippel. The Belton net minder whipped around and started a counterattack, feeding Martinez, as she made a beeline down the left side of the pitch. Martinez pounded a 30-yard blast that one-hopped past Rowlett goalkeeper Crystal Deharo to her right side with 28:39 remaining in the first half to make the score 1-0.
Just 14 seconds following the goal, Martinez was tangled up with midfielder Raven Powell at midfield and went down with a lower leg injury. She was carried off the field and did not return.
“Losing Aubrey early in the game, she’s our leading scorer, the district MVP from last year,” Belton head coach Wendy Knight said. “She leads the district in scoring (31 goals) and losing her was a huge loss.”
Powell also committed a foul six minutes later, as she threw down Sara Villamaria.
Rowlett continued pressing on to try and equalize the score before halftime, but great plays by Lexi Mack, Caroline Stegall and Erica Anderson kept the Lady Eagles at bay. Mack headed away a crossing pass in front of the goal box. Stegall and Anderson got their boots on in-box centering attempts and knocking the attempts away.
With a 20-miles-per-hour wind at their back, Rowlett attempted long shots to beat Dippel high side. Emily Heidman launched a 40-yard shot barely above the woodwork and Chase hit the outside of the right post from 20 yards out at the 13 minute and 11 minute marks respectively.
Krenek attempted a high, centering pass to reach Tiarra Hodges for a shot on goal. But the brisk wind held up the ball for Deharo to camp underneath and save with 10 minutes left in the first half.
Chase had another crack at the Belton goal with 1:48 remaining in the half, as a Rowlett corner kick that found Chase was redirected towards the goal, but missed short side left behind the near post.
In the second half’s third minute, Krenek was collided into by Jacey Alexander, giving the Lady Tigers a free kick. Jamie Brown’s free kick was a solid one, but Hodges was held up trying to reach it in the goal box. The ball went out of the backline, resulting in a Rowlett goal kick.
The Lady Tigers had two more attempts in the half’s fifth and sixth minutes, but couldn’t connect. On the second attempt, Deharo started a counter that Villamaria made a great play on to cut off a Rowlett scoring chance.
Hodges was called for a questionable foul in the half’s 10th minute, as she had possession of the ball and harassed by Alexander. Alexander tripped and Hodges was whistled.
Stegall and Anderson combined for a great stop in the half’s 11th minute, as Bri Arnold attempted to edge into the left side of the goal box high for a scoring attempt. The young defenders steered the play to the side out of harm’s way.
Mack headed away another Rowlett attempt that got close to Dippel a moment later.
Rowlett had eight players in the box and started swarming the Belton defense. With 19:36 left on the second half clock, Dippel went high to snag a ball out of the air and was hit high by Wideman, jarring the ball loose in the box. Arnold scored three seconds later tying the score at 1-1, with Dippel writhing in pain from the collision and no card issued.
“We had some things that didn’t go our way,” Knight said. “The two shots that we gave up, the first one was obviously fairly rough when they took our keeper out.”
The Lady Eagles, who chirped about the officiating during the entire game, were assessed a pair of yellow cards for unsportsmanlike conduct during the final 10 minutes of regulation.
Belton made their final march down the pitch within the last five minutes of regulation, as a methodical play that started with Mack, was carried out by Brown and attempted to go to Krenek in front of the net was intercepted by Deharo in goal.
In the first overtime, Dippel cleared Rowlett’s initial shot attempt. Belton’s corner kick 1:15 into the extra frame was headed wide by Hodges, but went off of a Rowlett defender for another corner kick. Brown’s kick from the corner went wide and Stegall nearly redirected the ball into the center of the box. Krenek booted a 15-yard blast so hard that the block went 15-yards in another direction.
The Navarro sisters, Alison and Emily, kept the game flowing between lines in regulation and in overtime, with stellar defense and offensive pressure. The pressure went on and led to another opportunity with a few ticks left in period, they set up a prime aerial opportunity for Hodges in front of the net. Hodges was pushed from behind and couldn’t get a full head on the ball as time expired in the first overtime.
In the second overtime, Rowlett went back to attempting long shots on net. Dippel snagged the first attempt with 8:52 remaining. Chase lofted a 20-yarder that snuck past Dippel under the high-side right post to give Rowlett a 2-1 lead with 7:37 remaining.
Belton was unable to sustain any pressure for the remainder of the game and their season concluded upon the sounding of the final horn.
“They were a really good team and they worked really hard,” Knight said. “We’re young and it definitely gives us something to build on.”
Knight was very matter-of-fact when looking at the key points of the match, especially when it came to the injury to Martinez and the collision with Dippel in the goal box that led to the Rowlett equalizer.
“It is a huge game-changer,” Knight said. “Losing her was heartbreaking and we saw it on the team. Actually, there was a spurt of time on the field where we let up and the morale of the team changed without Aubrey in the game. We thought they would come rallying back and then the foul on Courtney where she came out for the ball and they took her out in mid-air. That was rough. There were a lot of circumstances. But at the end of the day, we did not play the caliber soccer that I am happy with and to the level we’re capable of. But we’re young and in the playoffs, with a young team you expect to see ups-and-downs and a bit of a rollercoaster ride because they don’t have that experience yet.”
In her assessment of the season, Knight observed her team coming of age and some of their struggles to become a solid player in the Central Texas soccer landscape.
“I think early on in the season, we made a lot of young mistakes,” Knight said. “As the season went on, we kept growing and getting better and better. Our last two district games (Midway and Harker Heights) we were at the top of our game. I thought that we were really confident that we were in a really good place. We were at a point where we were playing stellar soccer. We were possessing the ball really well. Tonight, we had some nerves that got to us and reverted back to a little panicking.”
Though the loss ended the season abruptly for the Lady Tigers, Knight is optimistic for the future of her team.
“It’s been a really good season,” Knight said. “We lost two of our captains (Briana Davis and Emma Villamaria) early on in the year and the third captain was taken out in the first half of the game tonight. So it’s a rough way to finish the season without your senior captains on the field. So we ended the season with two senior players on the field and nine that will return next season.”
Graduating from the team are Dippel, Martinez, Brown, Adrianne Reichl and Emma Villamaria.