Third time is the charm: Pelham advances to state championship

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

HUNTSVILLE – One loan goal is all it took for Pelham to grab a spot in tomorrow’s soccer state championship game. After making it to the Final Four the last two years in a row and falling in the semis, there was one phrase surrounding this Panther squad coming into the game, “third time is the charm.”

And a charm it was as the Panthers picked up a 1-0 win over Daphne on Friday, May 12 to advance to that elusive Final Four thanks to a goal from Braxton Jeffcoat in the 17th minute.

Within the first minute of the game kicking off, Daphne’s goalkeeper Brandon Bowers collided with Pelham’s Irvin Rodriguez causing Bowers to exit the game. The Panthers tried to capitalize on his absence controlling the ball early on, but were never able to find the back of the net.

Seven minutes in Bowers entered back into the game and came up big. Irvin Rodriguez got back-to-back great looks that were close to putting Pelham on top.

The first shot was a rocket from 30 yards out that led to Bowers making a fantastic fingertip save to deflect the ball over the goalpost. That led to a corner that yet again found its way to Rodriguez inside the box. This time he put a solid head on the ball, but Bowers leaped up and snatched it at its highest point just before it went over his head to keep things tied 0-0.

Had Bowers not come back in the game, both of those shots could have easily gone for goals.

Pelham continued to put several strong threats together and it was only a matter of time before someone put a goal home for the Panthers. That time came at the 17-minute mark as Rodriguez got the ball in the box off a free kick and headed it over to Jeffcoat, who kicked a low to the ground hard rolling ball from the left side of the box to the far right side of the net to give Pelham a 1-0 advantage.

Other than a corner by the Panthers with four minutes to play in the half, Daphne looked much better the rest of the way getting several good looks as they had finally gotten off of their heels.

That momentum carried over into the second half as the Trojans came out looking like a different team offensively. They really pushed the pace and controlled the ball for the first 20 minutes, which led to several great opportunities.

Pelham goalkeeper Seth Torman was tested for first time at the 34-minute mark on free kick two yards outside penalty box, but the ball went just wide. Daphne picked up another free kick shortly after from a little further out that was headed out by the Panthers defense.

Finally, 11:10 into the second half, Torman had to make his first big save of the game as a ball came straight at him off a breakaway by the Trojans. He was able to make the save with ease to keep his team in front 1-0.

Over the last 10 minutes of the game, play got extremely tense and physical as Pelham was fighting for the win and Daphne was fighting for their season. It led to some great chances by both sides, but neither capitalized as the Panthers were able to hang on for the 1-0 win.

They advance to the state championship game tomorrow against Cullman at noon.