The season is over for Alexis Enriquez and Hillcrest following a 2-1 loss to Kilgore in the Class 4A Region II semifinals on Friday in Tyler. (File photo: Chris McGathey)
By Chris Parry / Special Contributor
TYLER — Hillcrest’s historic postseason run ended on Friday in the Class 4A Region II semifinals.
The Panthers saw a second-half comeback fall short during 2-1 loss to perennial power Kilgore at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
Hillcrest completed its best season in school history, in which it added bi-district, area, and regional quarterfinal trophies to the trophy case.
“Honestly I don’t think you can put it into words what this season has meant,” said Hillcrest head coach Willy Flores. “As far as soccer is concerned, we have never made it this far. These kids, they had all kinds of issues at the beginning and they stuck together and have been working hard all year. So it’s tough to get this far and have it end [so abruptly].”
The Panthers (17-5-3) reached the regional tournament by getting past Ferris and South Oak Cliff in penalty shootouts, then taking care of Celina. But the Bulldogs (24-3-2) were their toughest test to date and showed why, capitalizing on a Panthers turnover in the opening minutes to grab a 1-0 lead.
Hillcrest gave up a free kick 35 yards away from goal. It was easily grabbed by Panthers goalkeeper Isaac Morfin, who wanted to get things moving quickly the other way. The ball was tackled away from the Panthers by Kilgore’s Raul Cedillo, who then decided to try his luck from distance. The Kilgore senior smashed a long-range shot that Morfin could not stop.
“It was too early in the game,” Flores said of the opening goal. “The kids were still trying to settle down and get a feel for the game. It was a careless mistake pretty much and they capitalized on it.”
With 19 minutes left in the half, Hillcrest won a free kick. Both Cesar Canales and Alexis Enriquez stood over the ball from 18-yards out.
Canales stepped over the ball, leaving it for Enriquez, who unleashed a shot that forced Kilgore’s Danny Estrella to tip the ball up off his crossbar. The ricochet came out to Cesar Chicas, but his volley went over the crossbar.
The second half began like the first, with Kilgore capitalizing on a defensive mistake and scoring to make it 2-0. This time the goal was from Wanya McIntyre, who pounced on a missed clearance.
“They have a heck of a team,” Flores said of Kilgore. “They have a couple fast kids in the back that we were trying to keep an eye on. We talked at the beginning that [this game] was going to come down to mistakes and [Kilgore] capitalized on them.”
Hillcrest received a lifeline in the 65th minute, thanks to a goal off a ricochet from Carlos Alvarez. After Jesse Rodriguez’s free kick was denied by the right goal post, the ball came out to Alvarez and he made it count to pull Hillcrest to within a goal with plenty of time remaining.
The Panthers pushed for an equalizer with Morfin making several saves in the second half to keep the score 2-1. In the end, the clock ran out and Kilgore advanced while Hillcrest looks toward a promising future.
“It’s like sharks. Now [the players] have the taste for it and Monday we start all over again,” Flores said. “We will be here again.”