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Nederland, PNG coaches breakdown Thursday playoff keys

The Nederland and Port Neches-Groves boys soccer teams play Thursday in the bi-district round of the 5A playoffs.

The Bulldogs, who finished the season 14-7-3 (8-2-2 in district play), earned the second seed and play Manvel at 7:30 p.m. at Goose Creek Memorial. The Indians take on Friendswood at Barbers Hill at 7 p.m.

“They have a good team,” Nederland head coach Keith Barrow said of Manvel. “They have a pretty athletic team with some decent size. A lot of teams you play have littler guys. They have some good size. They aren’t any better than teams we have seen throughout the year. I feel like we have prepared well to get to this point, playing some of the best competition in the state in our tournaments and our district is really tough.”

Barrow said he wants his team to focus on being the best it can be instead of trying to change to beat Manvel.

“We just have to take care of what we need to do and be less concerned with them,” he said.

The head coach said Manvel best compares to Mid County rival PNG in style.

“(Manvel) plays very direct,” he said. “They are very capable. They play less like Galena Park, who is very possession-oriented. They play direct and try to get in behind you with some long balls and things like that.”

During the regular season, forwards Payne Barrow and Ethan Vincent led the Bulldogs offensive attack with eight and nine goals, respectively.

Senior Evan Whitehead anchors the stout Nederland defense.

“He’s a three time All-District player,” Barrow said. “He is really fast and positions himself well and is always ready to make the right plays.”

PNG brings a much younger team into the playoffs. The Indians defeated Bridge City 4-0 Monday in a warm-up game.

“We didn’t want them to go play a playoff game without playing for two weeks,” PNG head coach Chad Luttrull said. “They didn’t practice during Spring Break. We have been playing since November. That is a long season. I wanted to give them a break and a chance to get their minds off things and come back and get to work.”

Friendswood finished first in their district in scoring and goals allowed.

“They are a bigger school and play in a big district,” Luttrull said of Friendswood. “They play 16 or 17 district games. Playing bigger schools is always a bigger challenge. They are always a well-run program.”

PNG forward Jason Lovejoy leads the team in scoring and assists.

Lovejoy has 35 assists on the season, which ranks second in the nation, Luttrull said.

“He has 29 goals on the season, too,” he said. “Statistically speaking, this has been his best season. Last year got cut short.”

The Indians have three underclassmen holding down the defensive side.

Freshman goalie Felipe Figueroa has nine shutouts on the season.

Sophomores Andres Sandoval and Edwin Valenzuela play back for PNG.

“Us and Nederland had the second best defense in the district,” Luttrull said. “We both surrendered 18 goals. As a coach, that is pretty impressive considering we start two sophomores and a freshman. Nederland has had a phenomenal year and Coach Barrow has done a great job. They have older kids and we have been able to play with them.”

For more playoff coverage, check out https://www.panews.com/2021/03/24/bulldogs-indians-look-to-make-some-postseason-noise/