Pelham boys come up short in thrilling Final Four matchup

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

HUNTSVILLE – For the fourth time in five years, the Pelham Panthers’ boys soccer team found itself in Huntsville for the Final Four, and while the team came up short, it was an effort and 2019 season this year’s squad will look back on proudly.

Battling against St. Paul’s, the Panthers found themselves in a state championship like game that could have saw either team come out on top, but it was the Saints who pulled out a thrilling 2-1 victory behind two goals from Coleman Little.

Early in the game, Little started the scoring after he broke through two defenders to find open space before firing a shot past Pelham goalkeeper Joseph Gage for a 1-0 lead 5:26 into the game.

Throughout the final 35 minutes of the opening half, Pelham arguably controlled the ball more than the Saints, but the Panthers never could find the equalizer.

No part of their first half was bad, but St. Paul’s capitalizing on one of its few chances led to the 1-0 advantage at the break.

Coming out in the second half, Pelham didn’t change up its aggressive style with the ball, and 10 minutes in got its best look of the game when Irvin Rodriguez broke away from his man late and got a one-on-one shot at the goal, but the keeper ended up laying out to not only stop the shot but secure it as well.

But Rodriguez wasn’t going to be stopped the next time he got the ball inside the box.

Three minutes later, he found himself near the penalty shot marker with his back to the goal and a defender draped on him as well.

With no way to turn and face the goal without losing possession, he put the ball up in the air for himself and flipped his body upward and to the right for what was as close to a bicycle kick as you’ll see at the high school level.

The shot wasn’t just taken, but was executed as the difficult attempt was fired into the left side of the net for the equalizer with 27:02 to play in the game.

Now in a tie game, both teams got back to that back-and-forth pace knowing the next goal would likely be the difference in who would move on.

And while Pelham had opportunities in that span, it was Little who stepped up for St. Paul’s.

On what looked like a low-percentage chance with just him near the top left corner of the box by himself, ended with a 20-yard rocket to the far post that was indefensible to put his team on top 2-1 with 15:29 remaining.

Over the next 10 minutes, Pelham was forced to push offensively again, and it led to a great chance with just less than six minutes remaining.

Off a corner kick, Adrian Espinoza Arceo ended up with a chance and rolled the ball toward the goal, which slipped through the keeper’s hands. With a Pelham sliding in for the rebound, a defender and the keeper kept him from getting the ball cleanly as it popped up in the air behind the keeper.

The keeper, however, immediately got up, turned around and caught the ball in midair as it was hovering over the goal line. Had the ball hit the ground, it would likely have bounced directly in, but instead, St. Paul’s held onto its 2-1 lead.

Pelham still kept good control of the ball over the final five minutes of the game, and with 30 seconds left earned a free kick from 30 yards out that looked to be the final opportunity.

The shot was fired perfectly at the goal with some pace, but the St. Paul’s keeper caught it and preserved the win for the Saints, as they moved on to the Class 6A State Championship game.

Pelham finished the season 15-9-1 overall, and with the trip to the Final Four, the Panthers’ 17 seniors continued a legacy that will forever be remembered.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.