ALVARADO — Dubbed the beautiful game for what it provides — the nifty dribbling, the slick slide-tackles, diving saves, jaw-dropping goals and more — soccer often still can be so cruel.
For one team, anyway.
Four days removed from an emotional Class 6A bi-district girls playoff victory that required overtime and then penalty kicks, Belton entered Monday night’s area-round matchup against Wylie with a chance to push its unbeaten streak to 22 games and, more important, reach the postseason’s third round for the first time since 2014.
More drama — tied 0-0 through regulation and overtime — then more PKs but a season no more for the Lady Tigers, who had their first penalty kick saved by Lady Pirates goalkeeper Sophia Phipps then watched as Wylie converted all five of its shots to defeat Belton 5-4 and advance to a Region II quarterfinal.
Huddled a mere 20 yards apart afterward, one team departed in tears and the other exited to fervent cheers.
Soccer always seems to tug at heartstrings, one way or another.
“I think it’s very unfair on our part that that game wasn’t in our favor. ... In the run of play, I told these guys ‘There is nothing else that I would ask you guys to do. We went out swinging.’ I felt that this result maybe should have happened on Thursday, because we played outstanding today. We had and we created more chances. But you know, I think maybe we lucked out a little bit on Thursday and today kind of came back and got us,” said Belton’s first year head coach Oscar Bersoza, who guided 10 seniors — for whom postgame he teared up while praising their effort — and 15 others to a District 12-6A championship and an 18-5-3 record.
“This is the game we wanted against this team and we thought this was a good matchup for us, and we felt we could prolong our season. And that’s nothing to take away from Wylie, they did a good job. But, on our part, just in the run of play and soccer-wise, I think that we played outstanding and it just sucks that that’s the way it ended.”
Belton had eight shots on goal to Wylie’s three over the course of 100 minutes of action Bersoza said he felt was heavily dictated by his squad. The Lady Tigers, though, couldn’t crack Phipps and the Lady Pirates’ back line.
Four of the eight shots occurred in the second half during which Belton had two offerings just miss and another cleared off the goal line by a defender.
It was a mostly uneventful 20 minutes of overtime. Phipps dove to her left to save Belton’s first PK attempt. The Lady Tigers — Yuli Cruz, Sophie Elliott, Izzy Rhoads and Abby Lucksinger — made the rest, but Amelia Leggett, Agnes Hedman, Olivia Saldivar, Hayley Wolfe and Ashley Vensel were perfect in the best-of-five scenario to sew up the win.
“Facing a district champion in Belton, who had the size, the speed and technique, and fought hard, they threw it at us and challenged us in every single way that could be imagined. We just really dug deep and the girls found a way to play,” Wylie coach Chris Bezner said. “It was just so impressive for them to just face that adversity and find another way. It just shows you the commitment and determination of those kids.”
Wylie looked the more comfortable side in the first 10 minutes of the opening half, gaining most of the possession and earning the game’s first corner kick.
Belton, though, started to see more of the ball after that and recorded two shots on target — one each from Cruz and Rachel Ramm — in the 13th and 14th minutes that were routinely dealt with by Phipps.
The Lady Tigers’ best chance of the opening 40 minutes arrived in the 25th when Rhoads directed a header of Abby Cargile’s corner kick on frame, but Phipps was there again to keep it scoreless.
The Lady Pirates twice nearly caught Belton on the counter attack in the final 10 minutes of the first half. Hedman played Leggett through with a pass and Leggett’s cross into the box was cleared out. About 2 minutes later, Wolfe let loose from 35 yards out, just missing high with a shot that looked to skip off the top portion of the crossbar then out of bounds.
Maddie Harris nearly opened the scoring for Belton 7 minutes after halftime but rolled a shot wide as Phipps and her defenders scrambled to what was a vacant net left unattended after Phipps went to challenge Ramm, who made a run to a pass into the penalty box from Cargile.
Ten minutes after that almost, Rhoads’ header off a corner kick beat Phipps but not a Wylie defender who had stationed herself right next to the far post. Taylor Gurnett had a shot whizz just wide in the 63rd.