DALLAS — Eighty minutes of high school soccer is a brutal and punishing ordeal able to break the average athlete.
Those steaks raise significantly in the playoffs and when playing a critical postseason matchup on the road.
Behind defense and 18 saves from its senior goalkeeper, Midlothian showed its mettle and defeated Dallas Conrad 1-0 Tuesday at John Kincaide Stadium and advance to the regional tournament.
According to Head Coach Austin Guest though, beating a team like the Chargers with a single score took a little bit of luck, too.
"I think when you get several rounds into the playoffs you've got to have a few things bounce your way," he said, allowing a smile to peek from the under his well-groomed beard. "Conrad — like several DISD teams that go undervalued by the media and the club soccer parenting world because they don't think there's anything there— was a very good team. There's a lot of players and coaches from a lot of different countries that work their tails off and produce results on the field. We knew Conrad was going to be a good strong attacking team and that forced us to come out more defensive than we really like to and play the way we like to play, but, in the end, we played the way we needed.
"They gave us everything we wanted and some of what we didn't. We had to be very smart and compact. We had to cover for each other and make sure we never got into a position where one of [Dallas Conrad's players] was playing against one of us."
For 80 full-time minutes, the Charger's goalkeeper limited a team that scored an average of three goals per game to a single score. That strange bounce of the ball and fortunate turn of events also made the Panthers winners of five of their last six games, 17-4-3 overall and the last team in Ellis County still in the UIL soccer playoffs, regardless of gender or classification.
It also earned Midlothian the first regional tournament berth since the Chase Robertson and Jake Walker-led Panthers reached the regional semifinal round in 2010. Guest also led captains Tori Adame, Alex Furr, Kylee Pendery, Lindsey Sisco and Tess Voisard and the Lady Panthers to the regional tournament the same year.
Midlothian junior Logan Chamberlain's pinballing header on an Arron Young corner assist — the only score in more than 25 attempts by both teams — may have provided the best picture of why the combination of a little gambler's luck and suffocating defense can produce historical outcomes.
As Midlothian ground through minute after minute of one of the most important games of the year for either team, Assistant Coach Zachary Urquhart's voice rang crystal clear over the din of the crowd and the grunts of boys pushing themselves to the limit.
Play as one.
"The boys played maybe the most complete of their playoff games so far," he said. "We hit the crossbar and narrowly missed at least a half-dozen more shots, but defended great and held possession in the midfield for much of the game. Having Cody (Wann) in goal tonight didn't hurt our defense's chances of keeping a clean sheet, either."
Wann, a captain and the team's primary goalkeeper, swatted away 18 shots and added to the dozen more deflected by Justin Bannick, Maycol Reyes, Garrett Stagner, Zach Thibodeau and the other Panther defenders.
The Panthers face District 15-5A Champion Lovejoy High School at 4 p.m. Friday at Standridge Stadium in Carrolton, Texas. The (16-6-2, 12-2) Leopards rallied from behind despite a lighting delay to beat Mt. Pleasant High School 1-0.
Justin Diamond, a sophomore goalkeeper, has helped Lovejoy win nine games in a row and allowed eight goals during that stretch. Three of those victories were shutouts and the last Leopard loss was against Highland Park on Jan. 24.
"We're going to have to look at how we match up with Lovejoy because we've been so focused on taking this one round at a time," Guest said. "It feels great to be back in the regional tournament, though. We've had some teams in the last few years that could have done it but didn't just quite do it. You've got to give credit to these boys. These guys have a lot of heart, put in a lot of work and grind really hard."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.