LAKE TRAVIS – A handful of blank stares showed on the faces of the Dripping Springs Tiger boys soccer team as time expired on their 2018 campaign Friday.
On the one hand was a program that spent every ounce of energy they could muster in a heart-wrenching 5-2 loss to a familiar district foe in the Marble Falls Mustangs. The match was the third installment of a hard-fought series between the clubs.
On the other hand was a group whose emotions were still raw following a benches-clearing brawl that broke out between the two teams near the end of Friday’s match.
Somewhere in the middle, Dripping Springs Tiger head coach Josh Hill maintained pride in his team, which went from near the bottom of the district last season to nearly qualifying for the Region IV tournament.
For Hill, it was the knowledge that his team kept trying, even when the odds were against them.
“Down three goals with three minutes left, we weren’t going to win the game, but the kids played like we had a shot,” Hill said. “They didn’t quit and they played hard.”
Dripping Springs worked to combat a stingy and aggressive Marble Falls midfield that harried the Tigers throughout the match. Hill said the Mustang midfield was not only where Marble Falls controlled the ball, but also helped build attacks on the offensive end.
While the game plan was to challenge the Mustang defense and goalkeeper, Dripping Springs had trouble doing so.
“Marble Falls is a great team. We knew that. We played them twice in district and we knew it was going to be tough beating them again,” Hill said. “The better team won tonight.”
It didn’t take Dripping Springs long to get the better of Marble Falls’ defense early on. A free-kick opportunity near midfield turned into gold when goalkeeper Jaxson Thornton booted a 50-plus yard strike over the Marble Falls goalkeeper. Dripping Springs led 1-0 roughly four minutes into the match.
The excitement, however, was short-lived as the Mustangs powered their way for four unanswered goals over the span of an hour.
The first goal came when Mustang senior Fortino Tinajera booted a free-kick into the net to equalize the match at 1-1 with 34 minutes left in the first half.
Marble Falls maintained that momentum as the Mustangs scored a pair of goals in the final five minutes of the first half. Mustangs, who led 3-1 at halftime, continued their offensive onslaught with a goal at the 17-minute mark of the second half. Highlighting Marble Falls’ scoring salvo was Christian Ammons, who scored two goals during that stretch.
Despite the deficit, Dripping Springs attempted to claw back into contention. Hill said he tried to add a midfielder to combat Marble Falls’ possession advantage.
The move paid off when senior Cruz Martinez scored a goal off of a corner kick to cut the Mustang lead to 4-2. Part of Dripping Springs’ game plan also was to take advantage of set pieces, which Hill felt was something they could succeed on.
“We had a few chances if we got that lead down to one goal, they would have been more on edge,” Hill said. “But it didn’t go our way tonight.”
But Hill, who closed the book on his inaugural year as head coach, remained optimistic of the path his seniors have forged for the program. The ability to reach the regional quarterfinals in the program’s first playoff run in more than five years was a critical success.
“It wasn’t like we had to reinvent soccer. We had to convince players they were good enough to play and get them to play together,” Hill said. “That’s what they’ve done.”