Playing in their third consecutive state tournament, both the Lady Panthers and Panthers fought hard, but came up shy of advancing to the next round as the girls lost to Stuttgart 3-0 and the boys fell short against Monticello 2-1 last Thursday afternoon at Lyon College Soccer Field.
Stuttgart sophomore Erica Hawkins had herself quite the day on the field, racking up all three of the Lady Ricebirds’ scores over the span of eighty minutes. The first goal came at the 27-minute mark of the first half, later giving the home team on the scoreboard some breathing room on a goal with just seven minutes remaining in the contest. With the Lady Panthers in desperation mode, Stuttgart was able to march the ball down to the goal and secure the victory with a kick from Hawkins that resulted in her third and final goal of the affair. With the loss, Heber ends the campaign with an 8-9-1 overall record. Graduating seniors include captains Brynne Hardman and Allison Holland, as well as Caitlyn Briley and Ashley Herring. The Lady Panthers remain fairly young, returning four juniors, eight sophomores and five freshmen.
For the Panthers, their conference championship season came to a close by a close 2-1 loss to Monticello, who went up 1-0 on a header goal from senior Caleb Clair. Following intermission, Clair added another score to his resume, this one coming right before the water break at 25:00 to give the Billies some insurance at 2-0. About 20 minutes later, Heber came through with their first goal after junior Julian Cameron got the ball to sail through the net on a penalty kick, cutting into the lead with under five minutes to go. Monticello kept possession of the ball for the better part of the time left, advancing to the next round as the horn sounded.
Complimenting Clair’s two goals was Darien Sanabria (three saves) and Cameron Reynolds (four saves) combined seven saves on the day.
Heber winds up with a 13-7 mark, earning a share of the 4A-3 Conference title with both Crowley’s Ridge Academy and Brookland in the process. The Panthers that will be lost to graduation include: James Ekaphongpsit, Lucca Gomes, Trey Conrad, and Erik Leal. Cameron highlights a line-up of 10 juniors coming back for their final seasons, while seven sophomores and four freshmen will also be returning.