Progreso boys soccer falls to Palestine in 4A state semifinals

GEORGETOWN — Progreso didn’t look overmatched against undefeated Palestine as the teams clashed at the UIL Class 4A state tournament for the second time in three seasons.

The Red Ants even managed a goal, off the head of midfielder Hugo Hinojosa, against a Wildcats team that had shut them out into penalty kicks during the 2016 state championship match. Still, the tally was too little, too late, as time expired and Palestine ended Progreso’s season by a 2-1 score Wednesday at Birkelbach Field in Georgetown.

“We gave it our best. It wasn’t meant to be tonight,” Progreso coach Margarito Jimenez said. “To be able to come here three years in a row is a hard task. These kids from day one told me, ‘Coach, we’re taking you back.’ They wanted it all this year. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Jimenez said he was proud of his team’s effort, even through the disappointment of defeat.

The teams went into the halftime break scoreless, tangled in the deadlock the Red Ants expected against the defense-oriented Wildcats.

Progreso’s defenders, led by the senior core of Anthony Vasquez, Hugo Guajardo and Oscar Muñoz, contained most of the speedy wingers Palestine tried to utilize in open space.

The Red Ants even held a 3-2 edge in shots after 40 minutes of play.

Vasquez was one of five or six Red Ants players who paused to gather his thoughts following his final high school game.

“I’m proud, because we never gave up,” Vasquez said. “Even though every time we come back to state, we don’t win. We always lose. Hopefully, the young players can come back next year.”

Jimenez said he knew that the game’s first goal would be the most important. Just more than seven minutes into the second half, Palestine’s speed turned to production.

Javier Leonor made the Red Ants pay with his wheels. The junior forward dashed across the field and at full sprint wired a shot across his body and past the dive of junior goalie Arturo Gallegos.

“I think that if we had scored first, that would have made the difference,” Jimenez said. “That didn’t happen. We scored late, but I think that would have been the difference.”

The first goal changed the outlook of the game and allowed the Wildcats to play the defensive style that they execute so well.

Palestine coach John Absalom was complimentary of more than just Progreso’s game on the field. He recalled a kind gesture from two years ago, even after the Wildcats defeated the Red Ants for the 2016 championship.

“First of all, Progreso, we have nothing but total respect for them. After we were fortunate enough to win that (2016) title, we had a major flood, and they raised a bunch of money and brought the check to us,” Absalom said. “That will always be in my heart.”

Absalom said Wednesday’s second goal for his group was as good as gold because of the Wildcats’ ability to defend. The score came on a header from Daniel Sanchez, a substitute who had just entered the field at the previous stoppage of play.

“Honestly, as a coach, you see 2-0 lead, (and) we haven’t given up a lot of goals this year. I felt like we had this game,” Absalom said. “I was a little nervous the last seven or eight minutes, so that insurance goal was huge.”

Progreso’s lone score came in the game’s final five minutes, as the Red Ants were sending most of their players forward. Omar Anguiano centered the ball to a wide-open Hinojosa, who scored easily and ran to scoop the ball out of the net in hopes of restarting play for an equalizer.

Progreso is the only Valley soccer program to make three consecutive trips to the state tournament.