The Port Arthur News
Mid-County Madness is so named for more than the fierce, neighborly rivalry between Nederland and Port Neches-Groves. There’s ample mutual admiration and respect, too.
Just read the words of third-year Nederland girls soccer coach Keith Barrow. When his Lady Bulldogs face PN-G, Barrow knows his girls have to score against a senior goalkeeper named Lauren Lovejoy. Keith’s respect level for the PN-G keeper was obvious on Monday afternoon.
“She’s basically an extra defender who can use her hands,” Barrow said. “She’s so good because she’s so quick to come out (from the net) and make the play.”
A terrific volleyball and soccer star, Lovejoy leads District 38-4A girls in goalkeeping stats, permitting an average of 0.31 goals in 13 league games.
That’s a giant reason why PN-G enters tonight’s regular-season finale with an overall mark of 17-5-3 and a league-best 12-1 record. Coach Aimee Bates’ Lady Indians also own the home field for the 7 o’clock game to decide the 38-4A district championship.
Bates will not approach the night by suffering any from over-confidence, though. Nederland has a better overall season mark of 20-3-1, a league record of 11-1-1 and a couple of other items in its favor.
The records look even tighter on the boys side of this 38-4A district soccer championship night. PN-G is 18-5-3 and 11-1-1 and Nederland is 12-8-1 and 11-1-1 when the teams play tonight at 7 in Bulldog Stadium.
In either case, it’s a winner-take-all soccer situation for Mid-County Madness.
Barrow’s Nederland bunch won the earlier meeting 2-0 on Feb. 22. Arguably, the statistics would suggest Nederland to be more balanced offensively, too.
Lady Bulldogs’ senior Felicia Sauceda enters the final regular-season night with 24 goals while Lady Indians’ senior Jenna Morgan has 23. Kirsten Diaz, Brittany Leatherwood and Tatum Kieschnick have scored 17, 13, and 9 goals in district games for Nederland, providing Sauceda excellent support. PN-G sophomore Hannah Higgins has 12 goals in district play but none of the other Lady Indians has more than three in league games.
Translation: It’s all the more reason why PN-G needs the strong goalkeeping from Lovejoy.
“Quality finishes are very important in a game like this,” Barrow lamented. “I’d rather have five good looks at the goal and score one than have 50 and score none,” he said.
Barrow’s biggest experience advantage may exist right in front of the two goalkeepers. His all-senior backline of Bailey Perryman, Jenna Garrett, Kendall Ferguson and Kaci Hernandez offers excellent protection for junior keeper Tara Gillespie. Those four defenders have been a part of Lady Bulldogs soccer for four seasons.
The boys rematch should be a dandy but it may be difficult for the Bulldogs and Indians to duplicate their earlier meeting at The Reservation. PN-G kept putting a stranglehold on Nederland in that game only to see Nederland wiggle out, come from behind and ultimately prevail 3-2 by winning a 35-yard shootout, 3-1.
That tie, or loss, took awhile for first-year Indians chief Chad Luttrull to stomach. But the Indians have fashioned a perfect 5-0 record during March.
Regardless of the outcome, Luttrull knows the 4A state playoffs begin early next week. PN-G’s coach equates the visit to Nederland as a similar atmosphere to that of a playoff matchup.
“This is a great game for both teams to have before the playoffs,” Luttrull said.
Luttrull will count on his senior leadership from co-captains Hayden Hoffpauir and Isaac Addison. Two juniors also have been very dependable down the stretch – midfielder Trey Keyes and sweeper Mason Stewart.
Coach Torrey Gomez’s Nederland boys team very much resembles its female counterpart in a couple of ways. First, the Dogs also have balance in their attack. Second, the Nederlanders are used to being together for a number of years.
The Richard brothers, Trey and Adam, form an excellent nucleus with seniors Chris David, Jacob Landry and Layne Smith as well as juniors Colton Kimler, Brenden Babino and Dylan Weeks. The Dogs have lost one game since Jan. 18. They fell to Vidor 2-1 on Feb. 1 but won the rematch by the same score on Feb. 26. PN-G beat Vidor by scores of 2-1 and 2-0.