Time was running out for the Sam Houston boys soccer team.
But junior midfielder Samuel Huerta slipped into an opening near the net and headed in a perfectly placed cross with 10 ticks left on the clock in the second half. The goal tied the score at 1-1 against District 3-5A leader Martin on March 18 and led to an elated Sam Houston sideline.
The joy for the Texans was short-lived. Martin goalkeeper Corey Skanes turned away three shots as the Warriors held off Sam Houston in a shootout. Martin clinched the district title two nights later.
On the other hand, Sam Houston, which lost 17 seniors from last year’s district championship squad, learned that it’s not too far from the top of the standings. Sam Houston earned a playoff berth, along with Arlington and Lamar.
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“It’s a new team,” Huerta said. “We’ve still got to learn. As we go, we’re building up chemistry and starting to get better.”
Martin coach Brady Cagle knows how tough it can be to develop a district champion. Cagle, who is in his second season coaching the Warriors, saw his 2013 squad show plenty of promise but miss the playoffs. This year, though, has been different.
“I’m proud of the guys tonight,” Cagle said after the 2-1 shootout victory against Sam Houston. “My thing was, ‘Let’s play as one.’ That’s exactly how we did it. Chemistry’s been unbelievable. Every day they’ve shown up ready to work.”
Cagle knew this season could be special when Martin reached the finals of two tournaments during nondistrict play. Martin, which opens the playoffs against Keller Central on Friday at Pennington Field in Bedford, received goals and assists from a number of contributors.
Senior team captain Julian Basey, who had a team-leading nine goals prior to Friday’s district finale against Bowie. Senior defender Alex Lane has been the Warriors’ leader on the defense. First-year varsity player Sean Henggeler, who was previously on the Warriors’ golf team, has chipped in six goals and seven assists.
“Everybody has been doubting us, but we’re a different team since last year,” Cagle said. “It’s because of the leadership on this team.”
Sam Houston coach Joey Rodriguez knows that his team is different this season, but he wanted to make sure after the shootout loss to Martin that his players were confident and focused on preparing for the playoffs.
“You don’t need to hang your heads,” Rodriguez said. “We had our chances. … It should’ve been a fun game to play in.”
Sam Houston might lack experience, but it has loads of talent. Huerta, who was on the district championship team as a sophomore, has scored four goals and added two assists despite missing an extended period of time with an ankle injury.
Some of the less experienced players have shown flashes of brilliance. For example, sophomore goalkeeper Rene Benitez let in an early goal against Martin but held the Warriors scoreless the rest of the game.
“With all that experience last year I just had to make sure they got on the bus on time,” Rodriguez said. “Now with the young guys, with juniors and sophomores, you’ve got to do a little coaching, got to keep them focused. But it’s good for the next couple years, because the next couple years we’re going to be good.”
And that means Martin and Sam Houston should be playing plenty more great games in the coming seasons.
“They lost a few players from last year graduating, but they’re always a good team,” Cagle said of Sam Houston. “They played us real well tonight.”