Entering Friday night’s Class 6A quarterfinal at Pelham, the Benjamin Russell boys soccer team knew it had already accomplished one of the best seasons in program’s history. However, that did not make it any easier to swallow the 7-2 defeat after the Panthers scored five second half goals to end the Wildcats’ season.
“There’s not many Benjamin Russell teams that have gone through and won 15 or 16 games,” BRHS coach Austin Teel said. “That’s still an incredible mark. It’s an ugly taste and not how you wanted to finish but it was still a great season and a fun season.”
The Wildcats (16-5-2) battled with the Panthers in the first half. After falling behind 1-0 in the ninth minute, Benjamin Russell responded well but could not find a shot on target for the first 20 minutes.
Deshaun Gonzales got the first chance of the game for the Wildcats, getting on the end of a corner by Landon Daniel. However, his header was easily saved to keep Pelham in front.
Benjamin Russell got on the scoreboard in the 26th minute when Lucan Yates found Brandon Welcher in front of the goal. Welcher slotted the ball into an open net to tie the game.
The Wildcats continued to hold off the Panthers’ counterattacks but they could not hold on. Pelham took momentum back right before the break when Irvin Rodriguez chipped BRHS goalkeeper Campbell Woods to put the Panthers ahead 2-1.
“We were knocking on the door but they did a great job on their offside trap,” Pelham coach Sean McDonald said. “They kept us on our toes but for Irvin to get that strike in just before the half was huge.”
The score stayed the same for the first 19 minutes of the second half but Pelham was controlling the game and creating a bulk of the chances.
After a close-range chance was skied over the crossbar, the Panthers jumped on a poor goal kick and doubled their lead in the 60th minute. Pelham added another just 24 seconds later to take a 4-1 lead, essentially putting the tie to rest.
“I thought we responded well after that first goal went in and we kept fighting after that second,” Teel said. “But after that third one, it kind of killed us as a team. We have to learn to build character from that and build on that adversity.”
Trailing by three goals, Benjamin Russell looked to be more aggressive and pushed up the field in hopes of a comeback but clear chances were tough to come by. The Wildcats finally pulled one back in the 71st minute when Belcher got on the end of a cross from Lucas Roberts to cut the deficit back to two goals.
“We don’t give up and we don’t quit,” Teel said. “We’re trying to encourage them and they continued to fight until the end so I was proud of them.”
Pelham put an end to any comeback hopes when Jeison Garduno poked in a loose ball from inside the six-yard box in the 73rd minute. After a Benjamin Russell red card, the Panthers added two goals in the final three minutes to finish the Wildcats’ postseason run.