Dallas Hillcrest gave all it had, but denying Kilgore High School a trip back to the regional finals just wasn’t happening on Friday.
Kilgore, one of the state’s elite programs for the last decade, did face a feisty Hillcrest team at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium in Tyler on Friday morning, but held them off, taking a 2-1 victory in the University Interscholastic League’s Class 4A Region II semifinals.
That win means when Kilgore takes the turf at Rose Stadium again today, it’s for a trip back to the UIL state tournament.
The Bulldogs (24-3-2 this season), once again the District 16-4A champions, are now 4-0 in this season’s playoffs. They’ll face Midlothian Heritage (23-6-1), who beat Nevada Community 2-1, at 11 a.m. today.
Coach Tom Wait’s Bulldogs were upset in last year’s playoffs, but are two years removed from the 4A state championship. Win today and they’ll go back to the UIL state tournament, which begins next Wednesday at Birkelbach Stadium in Georgetown.
First, though, there was the matter of facing Hillcrest, a scrappy team that really played a clean but physical game with Kilgore on Friday.
After a first four minutes of shotless soccer, Hillcrest’s Clancy Dunn got a shot off, but it rolled harmlessly to Kilgore keeper Daniel Estrella. Four minutes later, Kilgore got onto the scoreboard with a goal from about 35 yards out by Raul Cedillo. Cedillo’s teammate, Elivan Torres, had just missed a shot on a penalty kick, and Cedillo scored immediately following the keeper putting the ball back in play. Kilgore’s crowd celebrated the goal, scored with 32:19 left in the first half.
The teams played solid, virtually mistake-free soccer for the rest of the half. Estrella picked up another easy roller before a near-miss, as Dunn, on a free kick, hit the crossbar and Hillcrest’s Alexis Alviso had a shot at a score, probably from 8 yards in front of the goal. But he missed high.
Kilgore led, 1-0, at halftime, as the Bulldogs quickly dashed off the field, and Hillcrest (22-7-1), in its first ever regional appearance, sat down on the sidelines to listen to its coaches.
Just after the start of the second half, a corner kick didn’t produce a goal for the Bulldogs, but Wanya McIntyre did moments later. McIntyre, who missed all of the season last year with an injury, has been back in a big way this year, and hit his 15th goal of the season with 35:21 left to play. That doubled Kilgore’s lead to 2-0.
McIntyre almost added another seven minutes later, but Hillcrest’s keeper, Emilio Mercado, made a diving save.
In goal in the second half for Kilgore was Karson Offerding, who also did a great job, but Hillcrest did get one goal: a free kick by Pedro Garcia of Hillcrest led to a ricochet-goal, booted in by one of his teammates, and that cut Kilgore’s lead in half, 2-1, with 25 minutes left.
There was a brief scary moment in the contest, when one of the officials took a ball to the head on a kick by Torres, but after only a moment on the turf, the official popped up and continued his duties.
Offerding made a sliding grab of a loose ball to prevent Hillcrest from netting it with 14 ½ minutes left, and then grabbed two late attempts on goal to deny Hillcrest a potential game-tying goal. Kilgore was able to run out the clock for its 24th win of the year, and draw within one game of another trip to the state tournament, what would be the Bulldogs’ fourth trip since 2011 – Kilgore played in the state tournament in the 2011, 2015, and 2016 seasons.
Kilgore really began this run back in the 2011 season, guided then by coach Michael Bradshaw to a 24-6-2 season and a 2-1 loss to Boerne Champion in the 4A state title game. The Bulldogs went back in 2015, and came up short in the semifinals.
They broke through for the program’s first state soccer championship in 2016, then were upset in round three a year ago.
See a report on the Bulldogs’ regional results later today on kilgorenewsherald.com, and find out if the ‘Dogs are headed back to state.