Pelham boys claim area title with shutout of rival Helena

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

HELENA – Behind three goals in the first half and strong performances from two goalkeepers, the Pelham Panthers were able to claim their first area championship since 2017 on Thursday, April 8.

Taking on rival Helena, the Panthers entered the match 4-0 in area play and playing some of their best soccer of the season as winners of three in a row and four of their last five.

That one non-win in that span came in a 1-1 tie against Homewood, another confidence booster for Pelham.

But taking on a Helena team with clinching the area title on the line, the Panthers knew they would have their hands full after beating the Huskies by just one goal in a 1-0 victory three weeks earlier.

The Panthers, however, were motivated and confident, which showed on the field.

Pelham looked like a driven team out of the gate with two goals in the first 10 minutes.

The first came on a penalty kick in the first two minutes of the game to put the Panthers on top 1-0.

On the second goal, Kevin Garcia-Hernandez won a ball in a cluster near the goal and was able to find just enough space to put a shot into the back of the net to extend the lead to 2-0 with just less than 30 minutes to play in the period.

Helena got two good opportunities over the next six minutes with a free kick and a fight for the ball in the box, but both opportunities came and went with no damage done.

Pelham capitalized by scoring another goal with 9:41 to play in the half.

Off a great feed, Miguel Obanda sprinted past his defender and placed a perfect shot to the right of the oncoming Helena keeper to put the Panthers in front 3-0.

Helena got two extremely good looks to end the half, but Pelham keeper Braden Troxell made back-to-back remarkable saves.

The first one came on a breakaway in a one-on-one chance for the Huskies. Troxell, however, took a chance by leaving the goal to slide into a kick. It paid off as he booted it away just before the Helena forward was able to get to the ball.

Two minutes later, Troxell got in a bad spot and ended up drawing a penalty, which gave Helena a penalty kick with 5:41 left in the opening half.

The Pelham keeper shook it off and guessed right on the PK, laying out to his left to save the shot and keep Helena off the board, leading to a 3-0 halftime lead for the Panthers.

But the Huskies, who are in a battle for a playoff spot with Calera, came out with a new effort early in the second half.

In the first 12 minutes of the period, Helena got a breakaway, a second good look, a free kick from 40 yards out and a corner kick.

All of those chances led to great opportunities at getting on the scoreboard, but good defense from Pelham’s back line and good goalkeeping from Kenneth Goodwin, who played the second half, helped the Panthers keep Helena off the board.

Helena got one more good look with 15 minutes to play, but another big save from Goodwin kept the shutout alive.

Then, with 12:45 to play, the Panthers added one final insurance goal to cement the victory and the area championship.