SAN ANTONIO — Westyn Henderson was a mine of chances for McAllen High, and with 15:35 remaining in her team’s fourth-round game against San Antonio Johnson, she struck gold and sent the Bulldogs to their first regional final since 2007. The 2-1 win on Friday at Blossom Athletic Center puts McAllen High into the Class 6A regional final against Austin Lake Travis at 1 p.m. Saturday.
On the winning goal, Henderson received the ball in open space, entered the penalty box centered to the net and then dribbled toward the right edge. She used multiple cutbacks to shake her defender, then turned and shot the ball past Jaguars goalkeeper Brooke Burgess.
“We wanted to make history, so we’re the second (McHi) team that has been to the elite eight,” Henderson said. “That was our goal. I think that’s what kept us going, and for the seniors, we did it for them. We just can’t wait to keep it going for them.”
The remaining time on the clock produced many tense moments for McHi, which has won three consecutive District 30-6A titles.
Sophomore keeper Lexi Gonzalez continued to play large in net to preserve the lead, including a parry on a shot from Johnson midfielder Ashley Stamps.
“I just did my best to try to keep anything out,” Gonzalez said. “After the first goal, I was like, ‘Nothing else is going in,’ so I tried my hardest to make sure that happened.”
The Bulldogs kept possession for a majority of the last six minutes of the game, holding the ball near the corner flag and thwarting any forward attack from the Jaguars.
From opening kick in the regional semifinal, McAllen High was the aggressor against San Antonio Johnson. Halfway through the first period, the Bulldogs took a lead.
The opening goal came on McHi’s second corner kick in quick succession. Zoe Flores sent the ball directly to the near post. When Johnson defender Brooke Stevens tried to clear the ball out of danger, her attempt had the opposite effect and deflected behind her own keeper.
Though not a conventional way to take the lead, the score did wonders for the team’s morale, Gonzalez said.
“We were just all so happy,” Gonzalez said. “It brought our confidence up a lot. It made us play so much better.”
Despite keeping possession for most of the half, the Bulldogs only scored once in the first 40 minutes. Just minutes into the second frame, Johnson’s Kaelyn Carnahan made the Bulldogs defense pay for one of its rare mistakes. She intercepted a ball in front of the net and leveled the score.
Before Henderson’s winning goal, the Bulldogs were pressing. Ava Alaniz received a stellar through ball from Chloe Fallek, but Burgess saved the one-on-one opportunity.
McHi defenders Rylie Flores and Victoria Sola on the interior and Andrea Soto and Hannah Kelly were given the enormous task of keeping the Johnson attackers from running free.
Bulldogs coach Patrick Arney was complimentary of his back line, though the group needed substitution in the humidity.
“We have Rylie Flores and Victoria Sola, and they just did outstanding,” Arney said. “We had to move Zoe Flores back and Hannah Kelly. We kind of kept Jackie Lemus and Emily (Gurwitz) back to give them a little bit more support, and they did outstanding. This is a great team that Johnson has, and to really shut them out — really one mistake gave them the goal. Other than that, I don’t really know if they had many chances.”
Gonzalez was also grateful for the players in front of her keeping the chances low.
“I’m just so proud of them, just how they kept the girls from getting to me so much,” Gonzalez said. “They know not to let them come to me at all. They did awesome.”
McAllen High will try to reach its first state tournament against Lake Travis, which shut out Brownsville Rivera 5-0 on Friday.