GATESVILLE — Salado had nothing to gain by winning and nothing to lose by losing.
Do not try to tell Chase Crenwelge that, though. Salado entered its regular-season finale against Gatesville entrenched in second place of the District 34-4A standings, but the Eagles refused to simply coast along in attempt to preserve their bodies for Tuesday’s playoff opener.
“We are a prideful team, and we don’t take losses easy,” the junior said. “We lost to Brownwood a few days ago, and that one tore us up. We were chomping at the bit to get back at someone, and it didn’t really matter who. ... We definitely wanted a confidence booster going into the playoffs.”
The Eagles got exactly what they wanted.
Crenwelge scored the go-ahead goal to give Salado (15-6-3, 8-2) a lead entering halftime, and the Eagles rode the momentum to a 3-2 victory. After Clayton Cole recorded the match’s opening goal in the 24th minute, Hornets senior Franco Vega evened the score on a breakaway, one-on-one situation with six minutes remaining before halftime.
But with 67 seconds to go before intermission, Crenwelge fired a shot from the perimeter of the box that sailed into the top, right corner of the net.
“It is great to go up a goal right before halftime,” Crenwelge said. “We’ve had (the situation) reversed on us, and we come out in the second half and the air is just kind of taken out of you. So, it is definitely an advantage to have that goal at that crucial time, but you still have another 40 minutes to play.”
In the second half, the Eagles extended their advantage to 3-1 when Brad Cosper took advantage of a misplay on the ball by Gatesville’s goalkeeper, gently sending a shot into the back of an empty net with 13:50 remaining.
The Hornets (7-9-2, 5-5) refused to go away, however, and when Vega’s shot ricocheted off Salado’s goalkeeper, freshman Ernesto Hernandez capitalized on the opportunity, firing the rebound in for a goal to make the score 3-2 with a little more than six minutes remaining.
“We got up 3-1, and I think we got a little comfortable,” Salado head coach Michael Goos said. “They kept coming at us, and both their goals were just great goals.”
Gatesville continued to attack for the duration of the contest, but was unable to deliver a match-tying goal.
Nevertheless, Hornets head coach Van Collins was pleased with his team’s late-match performance.
“There were kids on the field, who I think were starting to give up,” Collins said. “The seniors turned to them on the field and said, ‘No, we’re not done.’ They could have just quit and finished the game because the game didn’t matter anyway, but they didn’t. That says a lot.”
The Eagles open the Class 4A playoffs Tuesday at La Vega at 8 p.m. against the host Pirates, while Gatesville will play the program’s first postseason match Monday at 6 p.m. against Waco at Waco ISD Stadium.
“It was good to get back in this and have a hard-fought game that we were able to pull out,” Goos said. “I have a feeling that is how it is going to be in the playoffs.”