Pelham falls to Fort Payne in 6A semis
By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor
HUNTSVILLE – After a postseason filled with everything from overtime wins to blowouts, the Pelham Panthers found themselves in Huntsville on May 8 to take on the top-ranked 6A team in the Ft. Payne Wildcats in the Final Four. The Panthers came into the game as No. 2 in 6A to set up the marquee 6A semifinal matchup between the two top-ranked teams in the state.
From the start of the first half, Ft. Payne controlled possession. Virtually the entire first 20 minutes were played in Pelham’s defensive half of the field. The Panthers defense bent early, but did not break and held off a number of Wildcat opportunities. Ft. Payne eventually broke through, when Evan McPherson caught Andrue Ham, the Pelham keeper, flat-footed with a header into the side netting with 21 minutes remaining in the first half to take a 1-0 lead.
With 11 minutes left in the first half the Panthers put together a neat sequence of passes when Amilcar Canas Aguilar found Jose Jiminez Lopez on the far side of the field. Jiminez Lopez turned and played an excellent ball around a Ft. Payne defender to a streaking Irvin Rodriguez Benitez, but the ball was sent in with just slightly too much pace, and the Ft. Payne keeper gobbled it up. The Wildcats took the 1-0 lead into the break.
Starting the second half, Pelham seemed to settle down. The Panthers had a number of offensive chances in the early going of the second half, but could not send one into the net. The Panthers did not play poorly by any stretch, but simply did not have the kind of game they needed to have to knock off the top team in the state. Pelham played the long ball repeatedly in the second half, but few were accurate. The Panthers seemed to be one pass away from a goal a number of times, however Ft. Payne always seemed to be a half-step quicker, not to mention several inches bigger, and was always able to clear away any potential danger.
“We knew going in they had a very attacking mindset,” Pelham head coach Patrick McDonald said after the game. “They have some outstanding players that have had great years. We had some really good opportunities and we just weren’t able to put one in. I felt like in the second half we calmed down, and the kids, even though we were a little flat in the beginning, they rose to the occasion in the second half.”
Pelham ended its season with a 16-8-3 record and a berth in the 6A Final Four.