In sports you often hear the phrase "act like you’ve been there before." For the Portal boys' and girls' soccer teams that cannot be used as they are currently in uncharted territory. Wednesday afternoon the boys and girls
made the most of their first ever state playoff appearance as the girls beat Lanier County 2-1 in double overtime, and the boys completed the sweep knocking off Brooks County 5-0.
In the girls contest the Panthers went into the second overtime having missed on quite a few scoring opportunities. Only minutes before having to go to a penalty kick shootout Kelci Williams broke free from her defender and scooted her shot past the diving keeper for the game winning goal with 2:20 left in the game.
“This was such an exciting game,” said Portal coach Johnnie Sanchez. “It was a prime example of fighting till the end. I am so proud of these girls and the way they fought. When Kelci’s shot went in I just lost it. We had so many chances and it was exciting to finally get that one to go. They all played so hard today, and we are excited about advancing to the second round.”
Portal controlled the ball throughout most of the game but were stymied on over a dozen shots on goal. Going into halftime with no score, Lanier County took advantage of one of only six shots they had on goal the entire game. Gracie Benefield drove past the Panther defense and fired a shot into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead with 37:52 left in the half.
The Panthers finally broke into the scoring column as Kara Sivils blasted a free kick from about 25 yards away past a leaping Aniayah Bradfield in goal to tie the game at 1-1 with 12:38 left in the game. Panther Freshman Aydin Street had four excellent scoring opportunities after making nice runs but was stopped by Bradfield all four times.
“Aydin is a terrific player,” said Sanchez. “She really played well today and just came up a little short. I am so excited to be able to coach her over the next three years. She has so much talent and speed and is an excellent player.”
The win puts the girls into the Sweet-16, and they will host Wheeler County Monday.
On the boy's side Coach Matt Haddock didn’t have to sweat it out like Coach Sanchez as the Panthers scored early and often. Jose Sanchez came through with a hat trick and Cason Bishop added two goals and an assist in the Panthers 5-0 victory.
Boys head coach Matt Haddock has been with the Panthers since the inception of soccer as a co-ed team in 2014 and when the teams finally branched off into two teams and began playing a region schedule in 2017.
“It is unbelievable how far the program has come so fast,” said Haddock. “We joined the region four years ago and to be in the final eight at this time is just incredible. The hard work these kids have put in is really paying off.”
Bishop started the scoring only minutes into the game to spot the Panther a 1-0 lead. Kyle Haddock then spotted Sanchez for the second goal with a cross just over two minutes later to extend the lead to 2-0. Sanchez chipped a shot over the keeper’s head with just over three minutes to go in the second half to send the Panthers into halftime up 3-0.
In the second half the defense was able to maintain the shutout and Sanchez and Bishop each added a goal for the final score of 5-0.
“The team has really progressed so well from the beginning of the season until now,” said Haddock. “They have really come together as a unit and playing well on offense and defense.
Portal received a rare bye into the Elite-8 and will not play until May 5 against a yet to be determined opponent.