By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
Johnee Jasso has never known a loss to Ellison. But he has felt the pain of missing out of the playoffs.
The Harker Heights senior midfielder won't have to experience either this season as the Knights continued their dominance over the rival Eagles with a 3-1 victory Friday at Leo Buckley Stadium, securing a postseason berth in the process.
"To actually clinch the playoffs, there's no better feeling there," Jasso said.
With an opportunity to lock up its third playoff appearance in the last four years, despite more than two weeks left in the regular season, Heights (11-9, 7-4 12-5A) did what it couldn't a year ago and grabbed at least a share of fourth place with 21 points – 11 more than fifth-place Temple with three games left.
"We're looking for playoffs to start after spring break," Knights coach Jared Cruddas said of the team's mental approach heading down the stretch.
The Knights were also able to keep intact their perfect mark against Ellison (5-12-3, 2-8), having never lost a game to the neighboring Eagles.
"To be honest, this game was probably the most important game we've had all year," Jasso said. "Because of all the pressure (associated) with all those wins over Ellison, and they're our rivals, we had to make sure they knew who we were."
If they didn't beforehand, the Eagles certainly found out midway through the first half, when a throw-in by Jasso found the crown of the head of fellow senior Mike McNamara, who easily flicked the ball in past Ellison goalie Matthew Charlton for a 1-0 lead with 24:05 left.
Headers where Heights' specialty Friday as senior captain Angel Pulido redirected a lofting kick right in front of the net with his temple 13 minutes later as the Knights led 2-0 at the break.
"That's what we've worked on the last couple of practices, focusing on finishing, the technical side of it," Cruddas said of their successful headers.
Playing with the bitterly cold wind to their backs, the Eagles were a bit more aggressive in the second half, as senior Daniel Soria snuck in behind the Heights' defense around the net and finished off a flick from Phil Ruiz following a cross-field shot by Ryan Stuckey to cut the lead to 2-1 at the 20:30 mark.
"The intensity just picked up (after the goal)," Ellison coach Niles Dunnels said. "When we got that goal it was like a switch turned, it was like, 'I believe.' ... I'm proud of the way they played, they put it all out on the field tonight."
But Heights didn't get flustered and answered 11 minutes later when McNamara and Jordan Foster broke free for a two-on-one opportunity forcing Charlton to commit to stopping one of them as McNamara passed to a wide-open Foster for an easy open-net goal with 9½ minutes left.
"Since we have so much chemistry together, all-in-all, there's no stopping us," Jasso said. "We can get third place, we can get second (laughs)."
Ellison girls 1, Harker Heights 0 - For the better part of the last two weeks, Alyssa Conde has been the Lady Eagles' offense.
On Friday, the Ellison sophomore came through on defense too, clearing a potential game-tying attempt from the Lady Knights' Cathy Coffman with 2½ minutes left in the game.
"I was pretty nervous (playing) defense, because that's not usually my spot," said Conde. "It was just a team effort and we all pushed up and just played really hard until the end."
Conde has scored all five of Ellison's (7-9-5, 3-5-3) goals in its last three games, including their lone effort Friday with 2:32 left in the first half against Harker Heights (6-11-2, 2-8-1).
"It was a good ball from Brooke (Guererro) and I just saw the opportunity once I passed the last defender, I saw the opening inside and I took my time and just passed it into the net," Conde said.