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Huge soccer night in Mid-County

PORT NECHES — Once upon a time these Port Neches-Groves girls soccer players tended to run scared when it came to play Julie Johnson’s Nederland empire.

  That was then … like about five or six years back when Aimee Bates arrived on The Reservation.

  Five years of coping with these Lady Bulldogs has more than educated the PN-G girls soccer coach that this Mid-County Madness has contained a special, unique flavor to it.

  If you’re on the outside of it, you just can’t quite absorb it the same way. Hey look, Nederland boys mentor Rob Bledsoe does not have that same difficulty. He’s a Nederland graduate. It will be hard for Bledsoe’s face to display any smiles before the end of tonight’s game.

  That is, if his Nederland team (6-6 and 6-2) can beat first-year coach Don Sandell’s PN-G team (7-3-2 and 6-2) in the Indian Stadium early contest at 5:30 p.m. These Mid-County boys might be playing for a post-season survival of any kind because they would enter tonight in a tie for third place in District 20-4A.

  Bates and Johnson’s squads have a different sort of tie to untangle. PN-G’s Lady Indians (10-1 and 7-0) and Nederland’s Lady Bulldogs (10-1 and 7-0) are fighting to discover a new 20-4A league leader tonight at 7 p.m.

  Who knows how important the girls soccer rivalry between the Mid-County schools shall become before the end of this season? It may be even more significant to neighborhood supremacy than Hillary Clinton’s current role in the Democratic Party.

  Look, Hillary, can wait until next year. This is it for 14 seniors who run and hustle their way up and down muddy soccer fields for Nederland. Try to tell Evan Austin or Erin Binagia that Hillary Clinton is that important this year.

  And this is it for 11 seniors who do the same at Port Neches-Groves. Emily Pacetti, Michelle Morgan and Brittney Fruge will tell you Hillary’s politics can wait for another day.

  Even Mid-County Madness football-style becomes secondary right now for these girls. This really says a lot about the new neighborhood queens of Mid-County.

  Outsiders just can’t possibly understand. Bates would know. She played high school at Little Cypress-Mauriceville and college at Lamar. Then she got here in the fall of 2000. She didn’t know.

  “When I first got here, I didn’t understand the Nederland rivalry,” the PN-G girls coach said.

  Bates realized she had to change the culture of her soccer program. The Lady Indians could not fear this game any more. Her coaching counterpart, Johnson, has had a terrific amount to do with that.

  The 16-year Nederland head coach has compiled 226 head coaching victories. That total allowed Julie to enter the season 15th among the state’s winningest soccer coaches. Bates has respected and appreciated Johnson’s accomplishments. She’s just tried to establish the same kind of success on her side of the tracks.

  But it did not happen overnight.

  “The fear faded and it turned into more of a hunger and an excitement within our program,” Bates said in January as she surveyed the change within her program. “I wish a lot of our games were like that.”

  Fruge will be a major reason why PN-G will compete toe to toe with Nederland. Major offensive weapons Pacetti and Morgan will be, too.

  Nederland will not take a backseat defensively, though. The Lady Bulldogs enter with seven straight shutouts. The PN-G defenders will have to find an answer for Nederland’s gifted sophomore sparkplug Megan Melancon.

  The boys situation is highly unusual because neither Mid-County program is fighting for the district lead. Lumberton (10-1 and 8-0) visits Zaharias Stadium tonight for a 20-4A league-leading battle with Central (8-0 and 8-0).

  Yet the need to win remains as important as ever because each team is tied for third. It’s also unusual to examine the 20-4A scoring leaders and see four players outside Mid-County atop the league’s scoring lead. Nederland freshman Taylor Trahan and PN-G senior Matt Parks are in a four-way tie for fifth with 20 points apiece — that’s nine goals and two assists each in district activity.