Briarwood fends off Pelham in thriller

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

PELHAM – In a game that looked like it was going to be a runaway win for Class 5A No. 1 Briarwood, the Pelham Panthers donning their 1980s throwback uniforms made a late push before the Lions snuck out a 4-3 win to pick up their 15th consecutive victory of the season.

Early on in the matchup featuring the defending 6A champs and fourth-ranked team this season and the favorite to win the 5A title this year, Briarwood took advantage of a constant attack.

It took just 4:55 before the Lions offense struck, as Logan Frost placed a corner kick beautifully into the box. It was an awkward ball to defend as it was kicked high in the air and floated down seemingly in slow motion.

The ball was at a weird distance for Pelham goalkeeper David Clinton to make a play on the ball, which led to Hamilton Bowen leaping up and connecting on a header at the high point that he was able to blast just out of Clinton’s reach for the 1-0 lead.

Briarwood didn’t let up and instead let that first goal fuel a second opportunity just six minutes later.

Frost, who had an assist on the first goal, put his dribbling skills on full display throughout the night and his first sign of flashiness came at the 29:13 mark.

He was able to get through a couple of defenders up the right center of the field before finding himself a lane to shoot through. Frost reared back and kicked a ball that skipped swiftly across the turf before sneaking by Clinton for the Lions’ second goal.

After that, Pelham woke up and was finally able to find some lanes to attack Briarwood’s defense.

It led to a torrid back-and-forth pace between the two teams that saw some incredible saves from both goalkeepers as well as defenders in a 20-mintue span.

With 8:03 remaining in the first half, Pelham got a great opportunity and executed it perfectly when a corner was played into the box to Jonathan Vazquez, who is having an impressive season. He laid the ball easily into the goal to cut Briarwood’s lead to 2-1 late in the half.

The Lions, however, played the kickoff following the goal perfectly and eventually got the ball to Bowen for his second goal of the game. Similar to Frost’s goal, Bowen skipped the ball across the turf from the left side of the field and into the back right section of the goal to put Briarwood back on top by two goals at 3-1.

The halftime break didn’t slow the pace down whatsoever as both teams came out attacking early in the second half and it paid off for the Panthers.

After a crossover move from Miguel Trejo left him with an open shot from just over 20 yards out, he fired a ball straight on goal and was able to just beat the keeper to draw the Panthers back within one goal with 29:02 to play in the game.

While both teams were strong attacking in the opening period, Briarwood was creating more opportunities.

In the second half, however, that narrative changed as Pelham’s constant attacking created several opportunities and kept the ball away from the Lions’ dangerous offense.

The Panthers had several great looks from the 29-minute mark to inside of 10 minutes before finally capitalizing.

With 6:58 to play in the game, Irvin Rodriguez received an inbounds pass that he eventually tried to send toward goal. The ball went toward the goal, but went probably 20 yards in the air and had loads of spin on it.

The ball came down right in the hands of the Briarwood keeper’s hands, but the odd angle and spin caused him to drop the ball that went directly behind him and bounced off the turf where it found the head of Leonel Crespin just outside of the goal for the equalizer.

All of a sudden, the Briarwood of the first half showed up in an effort to now try and score a late goal to win as well as prevent the Panthers from winning.

It didn’t take long for the game-winning goal to come once the Lions turned up the pressure again. With 2:49 remaining, Jeffrey Neville was able to find the ball in the box directly in front of the goaltender after it was batted around a few times.

Neville was able to connect perfectly on a close shot to put the Lions back on top, this time for good, as the Lions pulled off the 4-3 victory.

Both teams have a couple of regular-season games left, but are headed to the playoffs. The Lions are now 17-2-1 overall, while the Panthers are 11-8-3 overall.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com