BY RUSSELL HUFFMAN
Playing against a very stingy Mineral Wells defense, Stephenville Honeybees weren’t safe until Gracie Bales nailed goal with 30 seconds left in play to nail down a 2-0 Area playoff victory over the Lady Rams at Aledo High School Friday.
The win propels the defending state champions into a Friday matchup against Midlothian Heritage that was a 3-1 winner against Kennedale.
“Mineral Wells came out very fast, aggressive and they moved well,” Coach Casey Weil said. “We played great on defense, but it’s always a worry when a team still seems to keep hanging around.”
The score was knotted at 0-0 in the first half when a passing lightning storm held up play for an hour. Both teams hit the locker room, and when it was clear to play again, it was Stephenville that emerged looking calm and relaxed.
Claire Choate clipped the ball up high about ten minutes back into play, and striker Ciara Johnston was above everybody on the field with a header deep into the Mineral Wells net. The ideally laid shot gave the Honeybees a 1-0 lead with 15:53 to play in the first half.
“See that score we are winning 1-0,” Weil said during halftime. “To win this game all we have to do is not let them score. That’s all we have to do from here is not let them score!”
The Lady Rams may have been down, but they were not out, and the kept up a relentless pace only to have the Honeybee defense keep them at bay time after time.
“We played great defense. We made adjustments when we had to and just kept applying the pressure,” Weil said.
It looked like Stephenville was going to be up 2-0 with nine minutes to play before a ruling that the Honeybees were offside when Gracie Bales flicked the ball past the Lady Rams goalkeeper.
Bales shook off the ruling and with a pass from Choate and 30 seconds left in play smashed a bruising kick past the laid out goalkeeper into the corner of the net.
“We played incredible against a team we have already played three times this year,” Weil said. “It’s hard to beat a team four times in a season. They know what you do on the field and your tendencies. I am so very proud of this team.”
The Honeybees have a racked up 17 playoff goals and have yet to allow an opponent to score. Stephenville will find a much more robust defense in their next matchup against Midlothian which gave up its first goal of the playoffs against Kennedale.
Midlothian’s two previous wins were shutouts 6-0 against Lake Worth and 2-0 over Celina. On paper, Midlothian and the Honeybees are an equal match with 25-3-1 and 23-3 records.
Friday’s regional semifinals are set for an 11 a.m. start at the Birdville Athletics Complex.