Breaking through: Pelham brings home first state championship
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor
HUNTSVILLE – Coming into the Final Four, Pelham’s main speech was that they were going tom make their third time in Huntsville be the charm after the Panthers fell in the semifinals each of the past two years to the eventual state champion.
After knocking off one historic win against Daphne on the previous day, the Panthers found themselves in the state championship game for the first time in school history on Saturday, May 13 as they looked to send nine special seniors off with a blue map on their resume.
There was just something about the moment that made it feel like Pelham’s moment to break through and that’s just what the Panthers did. Not only did they break through, but this squad that had dealt with heartache of coming up short busted down the walls in a 2-0 win over defending state champion Cullman for their second historic win in as many days.
“You want to beat the best opponent in the biggest game and they were the defending state champion, it feels good to beat a quality team like them,” head coach Patrick McDonald said after the win. “We’ve had nine starters with three years of experience up here and it just finally paid off. They have rolled with the punches and adapted to different playing styles based off our opponents.”
It was the perfect send off for those nine starters, who also happen to be seniors who had dealt with heart break the last two seasons. While not dealing with heartbreak, coach McDonald couldn’t help but shed a tear of happiness for his guys while seeing them celebrate with each other and the students piled up against the fence.
“That’s what it’s about,” McDonald said clearly choking up. “You work all year on this and to see what they’re doing right now is so worth it. They’ll always have this memory and have worked really hard so I’m just really proud of them.”
Coming into the game, McDonald said he told his seniors that win or lose this is their last game regardless so he just wanted them to come in and enjoy it.
And enjoy it they did.
While the first 20 minutes of the game were relatively quiet, the crowd erupted as Armando Valencia kicked off the fun by an unreal and very rare goal from midfield. Valencia got a free kick from just on the other side of midfield and drove a high arcing kick right over the goalkeeper’s hands to put the Panthers up 1-0 midway through the first half.
Despite Pelham controlling the ball and getting several more chances, the game became quiet again the remainder of the first half and the majority of the second half until there were 13 ticks left in the game.
Jose Jimenez, one of the seniors, had the ball just outside the right side of the penalty box before firing a shot into the goalie box. The ball found its way to a Cullman player who was trying to kick the ball out, but instead kicked it right over his goalkeeper’s goal to put Pelham up 2-0 to secure their state title.
“We were in a similar situation yesterday with Daphne and sort of left our foot off the pedal,” McDonald said. “I just told them not to do that in the second half today and we would be able to get that second goal and that’s actually what happened.”
This senior class will be remembered for a long time at Pelham High School for transcending this program into an elite soccer school. From back-to-back Final Four appearances to a state championship, these guys have created the memory of a lifetime in the Panther green and gold.
“It was a testament to these kids and everything they’ve gone through,” McDonald said.
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