By REID TUCKER
Freeport’s soccer team turned the tables on Walton in the teams’ second meeting of the season, netting a convincing 4-3 victory on the Bulldogs’ senior night.
Despite the change in venue to Freeport, the Thursday, Jan. 20, game was in many ways less of a sequel to the prior game and more of a remake. As with last time, Walton was still less a critical starter or two, namely ace midfielder Ricardo Ramirez due to a hip injury that first flared up in the last game against the Bulldogs. However, Freeport team had also suffered some injuries, meaning that the Bulldogs took to the field with just 12 players, a fact that head coach Carla Griffith said had her worried going into the game.
She needn’t have worried though, for, like all good remakes, this one didn’t play out exactly like the original. In spite of some initial hesitancy going into the game, the Bulldogs were carried to an early lead thanks to two goals from Kevin Castro. Walton’s Carlos Morales scored twice in the meantime, but Freeport was back on top again by the 10th minute as David Geraldo scored on a corner kick.
“We were a little leery going into the game, there’s no doubt about it, but they got together and pulled out a win for the seniors,” she said. “This was the best they’ve played in a while. It was really a pleasant surprise.”
Bryce Sefo made a breakaway run right after the water break and put a shot on the goal but it came up just a few feet short of the right post. Geraldo closed in on Walton’s goal and found the back of the net with 7:23 to go in the half, but the kick was called high due to the proximity of Walton keeper Stan Standland. The Braves turned up the heat in the period’s closing minutes and Luis Garcia capitalized on a direct kick and to make the score at three-all.
The second half saw both sides employ a more defensive strategy so as to avoid costly attempts on the goal, but it was only a quick diving save by Standland that prevented Sefo from scoring just after the water break. Walton’s Travis Fields nearly put the Braves in the lead but a line drive on the goal in the 65th minute skimmed the top bar. Having narrowly avoided a lead change, Freeport dialed up the intensity in the latter part of the half, putting five shots on the goal to Walton’s two, though the Braves’ keepers kept the ball from the net in four out of five cases.
That one shot that made it past Standland’s screen came courtesy of Castro (Freeport’s leading scorer, with 17 goals to his credit), who earned his third hat trick of the 2010-2011 season. With just minutes to tie the game up, Walton’s players redoubled their efforts to send some shots downrange, but all that ended for the most part when Joey Rodriguez and Sefo clashed heads in the 57th minute. Walton failed to convert several subsequent possessions into attempts on the goal and the clock ran out on a 4-3 victory for the Bulldogs.
Ambulances were called for Sefo and Rodriguez, though neither were said to have suffered concussions. Both were cleared by medical officials to play, though Sefo did not participate in the next day’s game on the road against Fort Walton Beach, who mercy ruled the visiting Bulldogs.
Nevertheless, Griffith said Sefo will be up and around for this Friday’s district championship game against rival Rocky Bayou. She said having Sefo back on the field will be a big help, but the game is expected to be a tough one regardless, as the Knights have twice beaten Freeport (6-9) this season. Making things even more interesting is that the Bulldogs will contest the district title sans substitute players, and perhaps more importantly, without the assistance of sweeper Hunter Bailey, who had 27 saves against Walton.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Griffith said. “It can be done but we’ll have to get it right in practice. We’ll have to play together and play very hard. But you never know, when we’re on, we’re on. When they play together we can be in contention.”