COLUMBUS — The Salado Lady Eagles already achieved more this season than in recent years by advancing past the third round of the girls soccer playoffs last week, a hill that the program hadn’t climbed the last three years.
Still, with eight seniors looking to play for as long as possible and make up for lost time, Salado wasn’t looking to call it quits Tuesday night. Even after trailing at halftime, the Lady Eagles weren’t worried about their chances.
Because of that faith — and a wealth of experience — Salado is into the regional finals and lives to fight another day.
After trailing 1-0 at intermission, Salado scored two second-half goals to complete the comeback and defeat Sour Lake Hardin-Jefferson 2-1 in a Class 4A Region III semifinal at Memorial Stadium. The win moved the Lady Eagles into the fifth round for the first time since their trip to the state semifinals in 2016.
“Anytime our backs are against the wall, we just continue fighting and we’ve done it so much now that I’m used to us pulling these kinds of games off,” said Salado head coach Michael Goos, whose team will play Bay City (25-0) in the regional final Friday in College Station. “We just continue to find ways to win.”
Aubrey Heffner’s kick soared up and over Hardin-Jefferson keeper Julianne Garner’s reach in the 49th minute to tie the game, Holly Wright pushed through the go-ahead score in the 65th minute with a 35-yard strike into the upper, right-hand corner of the goal, and Salado’s defense — held to the fire for much of the first half — stood strong through Hardin-Jefferson’s last surge over the final 10 minutes.
“We came into the game thinking we were going to win,” said Salado keeper Avery Wright, who made seven first-half saves and finished with nine. “We came in a little too overconfident, but we started to straighten some things out at the end of the first half and we never lost faith in ourselves.”
Salado (20-6-3) played defense for a vast majority of the first half, hampered by a 20 mph headwind and hounded by a Lady Hawks offense that continuously penetrated deep into Lady Eagles territory. Goos said because of the wind, Salado was forced into a different defensive formation. Hardin-Jefferson (14-6) tallied eight shots on goal in the first half and 10 for the match.
“We did a good job of bending and not breaking on defense,” Goos said. “(Hardin-Jefferson) had a lot of opportunities and a lot of shots, and we found a way to keep them at bay and not let it get out of hand.”
After several of Salado’s shots were off target in the first half, the offense corrected itself and broke through less than 10 minutes into the second half. The Lady Eagles put four of their five shots on goal in the second half, while their defense yielded just two by Hardin-Jefferson. Holly Wright’s score with 15 minutes remaining in the match was the result of relentless pressure put on the Lady Hawks’ back line and relieved some frustration for Salado after its offensive struggles during the first 40 minutes.
“We noticed that we weren’t playing to our best ability in the first half. It hit us that this could be our last game,” Holly Wright said. “None of us wanted that. We wanted to win this game.”
Marissa West opened the scoring in the 14th minute for Hardin-Jefferson, which was looking to return to the regional final for the first time since consecutive appearances in 2015 and ’16.
The second half belonged to Salado, though.
“We’re going to play our fifth playoff game later this week. That’s awesome,” Goos said. “I’m so glad we’ve been able to do this and give our seniors a lengthy playoff run, but we’re not done yet.”