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After Area soccer titles, Deer Park squads now have Elite Eight date this weekend

April 5, 2019

Of the two varsity soccer coaches on the Deer Park High School campus Wednesday, one couldn’t tell who had the wider smile.

Deer Park boys coach Jerry Hurtado had every reason to smile after his guys became the first team in four years to reach the third round of the 6A state playoffs, following a 3-1 road win over Alief Hastings.

On the girls’ side, Jesse Saavedra was matching Hurtado’s smile, following his club’s 2-1 Area championship victory over Pearland at Clear Creek High School.

For both, they now have dates this weekend at the Region III “Elite Eight Dance.” If Deer Park’s good fortunes can continue for just 80 more minutes, both will be coming home to Clyde Abshier Stadium next weekend for the annual Region III Final Four festivities.

For one of these eight teams, a trip to the state championship tournament sits just nine days away.

“At the beginning of the game, my heart was pumping real fast. I was kind of nervous because I was missing all my shots in pre-game. But when we got on the field, it was calm and I proceeded to play my game the way I knew how to play and just went for it,” said Camden Chance, who scored one goal and collected the assist on the second score.

“As soon as they scored, I wasn’t really worried because I knew we would come back,” said Herson Sandoval, who was one of three players to find the back of the net after the Deer Park boys team found themselves down 1-0.

Once the game was tied, Deer Park found goals No.2 and 3 in rapid-fire fashion. Hurtado said it was essentially a seven-minute fireworks show.

“It was about two or three minutes later (after the initial goal) when we scored the second one and then we scored the third one and we were set for the game. In the second half, we played really good defense,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval’s goal tied it, taking advantage of a free kick, a shot that Hurtado described as “perfect,” going into the upper right hand corner.

Sandoval has all but locked up District 21-6A’s Comeback Player of the Year award. The youngster tore his ACL last year and now this year he’s a major contributor for the offense. At the time of his season-ending injury, he was among Deer Park’s leading scorers.

“Right now, he’s hitting his stride and that was a good indication,” Hurtado said.

Willy Lopez, who was credited with the match-winning goal against Pasadena Memorial last week, collected what proved to be the match-winning goal and that was promptly followed by a score from Alejandro Lucatero.

Defensively, Hurtado was very pleased.

“That team was good. We knew they were going to move the ball. They played good small ball. We couldn’t leave any big gaps,” Hurtado said.

“There were a few shots that were unexpected but other than that, it was a pretty easy game for me,” goalie Michael Garcia said.

Returning to the Lady Deer, the team apparently has Pearland’s number, upping their record against the Oilers to 4 meetings in recent seasons, 4 wins. Now, it’s back-to-back years that the program has eliminated Pearland from the playoffs at the Area round.

The deciding goal came with 18 minutes left on a Mariana Alvarez-Garcia score off a pass from Chance.

Deer Park’s assignments this weekend will be the ultimate tests. The Lady Deer face a Kingwood team that obliterated the District 22-6A competition often by scores of 7-0 and 8-0.

The team is 22-1-3 overall and MaxPreps ranks them 261st in the nation.

But these two are no strangers when it comes to the playoffs and Deer Park has given the Lady Mustangs all they can handle.

“Believe it or not, we’ve scored both goals before them,” said Saavedra, remembering how Deer Park had 1-0 leads in the 2017 and 2018 playoffs, before losing in either a shootout or overtime.

“We’re kind of looking at ourselves in the mirror. What would you do against you. In the third round, everybody’s good,” Saavedra said.

The Deer Park boys will oppose reigning Class 6A state champion Alief Elsik at Abshier Stadium Friday night at 7.

Hurtado emphasized over and over again in practice how good the player with the number 10 on his back is. When he’s not on the field, the offense struggles. When he’s on the field, the offense glows.

The veteran coach talked about how his guys have to have their heads on a swivel Friday night, seeing both ball and man at all times.

And when the attack lends itself an opportunity to score, the team must finish the job. Points left on the Abshier Stadium turf could come back to haunt the Deer.

ravery@hcnonline.com