COPPERAS COVE — Jake Walrath patiently waited for his opportunity.
For the past several matches, Salado’s senior sat on the bench, watching as his teammates completed the regular season schedule and prepared for the playoffs.
In Thursday evening’s Class 4A bi-district match against Lampasas, however, Walrath was given minutes on the field, and he did not squander the time.
After entering halftime tied 1-1, Walrath recorded a goal within 90 seconds of play resuming before delivering a second goal into the net less than 15 minutes later, catapulting the Eagles to a 3-1 victory.
Following the game, Walrath admitted feeling a need to seize the moment.
“I just had to keep my mentality straight,” he said, “and when it was my chance, I had to go take it.”
Salado (18-5-2) dominated the field early, recording nine shots on goal along with five corner kicks before halftime, and it took the Eagles just 10 minutes to record the game’s first goal as Kaden Smien fired a deflected save off Lampasas goalkeeper Johnnie Mcgehee into the back of the net.
The Eagles’ offensive attack continued as the Badgers struggled to produce shots, with their first attempt sailing high off Rafael Hernandez’s foot in the 20th minute.
But despite the deferential, Lampasas tied the score in the 28th minute as Dylan Kannan converted his team’s third and final attempt of the first half, slipping a short shot past Salado goalkeeper Feerman Vitolas.
The score held through halftime, but then Walrath found himself repeatedly in the right place at the right time.
Just 87 seconds into the second half, Walrath punched in a teammate’s shot attempt that ricocheted off the cross bar, falling just feet in front of the goal.
In the 56th minute, he increased the Eagles’ lead to 3-1 after Mcgehee, who finished with 13 saves, deflected another shot attempt, allowing Walrath to send the rebound into the net.
“A substitute came in and changed the game for us,” Salado head coach Jared Cruddas said. “He really provided us a spark when we needed one.”
Walrath believes the spark came long before he scored, though.
“Lampasas played a really good first half,” Walrath said, “and they played harder and faster than we expected.
“We had to have a stronger mentality going into the second half, because their goal really woke us up.”
Now, Salado awaits the winner of tonight’s match between Canyon Lake and Giddings in the area round, potentially setting up a rematch with the Hawks, who eliminated the Eagles from the playoffs last year.
Although the opportunity for revenge might be enticing to some, Cruddas is only concerned with one team — his own.
“It really doesn’t matter who we face as long as we take care of our opportunities,” he said. “If we can minimize mistakes and finish, then we’ll be OK against anyone.”
THURSDAY'S PLAYOFF SOCCER SCORES
Boys 6A bi-district
- Irving MacArthur 2, Belton 1
Boys 4A bi-district
- Liberty 2, Gatesville 1
- Salado 3, Lampasas 1
Girls 6A bi-district
- Belton 3, Duncanville 1
- Irving MacArthur 3, Copperas Cove 0
Girls 4A bi-district
- Hardin-Jefferson 4, Gatesville 0