Pelham pulls away in second half at McAdory to avenge 2023 playoff loss, advance to second round

Published 1:31 am Friday, April 26, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

McCALLA – With the scoreboard still reading 0-0 and the match hanging in the balance, the Pelham Panthers needed a breakthrough goal to shake the challenge that the McAdory Yellow Jackets brought on their home turf at McAdory High School.

That breakthrough opener came in an emphatic way in the 49th minute.

Luis Bravo caught the end of a deep chip pass and played it off the bounce in midair as he flipped for a bicycle pass to Elder Esquival, who matched up with the McAdory keeper and dove for the header to score the first goal of the match.

The goal propelled Pelham to the 2-0 win in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs on Thursday, April 25 and advance to the second round next week.

The victory meant even more for the Panthers as it avenged their loss in controversial fashion to the Jackets in the second round of the 2023 playoffs, as the Jackets self-reported three ineligible players after the match and lost its spot in the quarterfinals as a result.

Before that goal, Pelham and McAdory engaged in a competitive first half that saw chances from both sides.

Two minutes into the match, the Panthers ripped a shot that threatened to score before going just north of the crossbar.

A minute later on the other end of the pitch, Raul Jacobo made the first of many stops for Pelham with a low save.

Esquival was busy throughout the first half on set pieces, and that started in the fourth minute when his direct free kick was stopped by McAdory’s keeper.

Pelham then got a couple of opportunities in the 14th minute, first off a corner kick to Matthew Chaux and then off a breakaway, but neither resulted in anything substantial for the offense.

Soon after, McAdory had a pair of chances, one in front of the goal that was cleared in the 15th minute and an 18th minute cross that flew from the right wing across to the left side of the field without connecting to continue the back-and-forth stretch.

The pendulum then swung back to the Panthers as Jair Camargo’s 21st-minute free kick took a threatening bounce into the box but was handled by McAdory with a diving save. Mere moments after, a Pelham header off a corner was saved as well.

With Esquival’s direct free kick in the 29th minute providing the last threatening chance in the half for the Panthers, the Jackets finished the half with another solid string of chances.

That included a shot from the right wing that forced a diving save from Jacobo in the 34th minute and a 40th minute opportunity in front of goal that was left wanting.

With none of those chances resulting in a goal, both teams went to halftime tied at 0-0.

Five minutes into the second half, Pelham made a run towards goal and won a free kick just outside the left side of the box. Seeing an opportunity for a goal, Esquival took the direct free kick but just barely missed and hit the crossbar.

The Panthers then got another shot at a score in the 47th minute when after a McAdory yellow card on a challenge, Luis Bravo took a shot that McAdory saved.

Two minutes later, the two players responsible for those most recent chances, Esquival and Bravo, connected in front of goal for the highlight-reel opening goal to put Pelham up 1-0.

From there, the tone of the match changed as the Panthers took advantage of the momentum from the goal and energy from the traveling crowd to further press the attack.

Just a minute after Bravo’s acrobatic assist, Alvin Aries tried to hit a bicycle of his own, this time on a shot attempt that was unsuccessful.

In the 54th minute, Shadi Abdullah crossed the ball into the box with a grounder, but the Jackets keeper just collected the ball before a shot could get off.

Shortly after McAdory got a corner, it crossed the ball into a threatening area of the offense in the 58th minute, but Miguel Lopez Saucedo was all over the matchup and took care of the ball before it could advance.

Esquival tried to add another goal to his total in the 63rd minute after he took a lengthy run down the left wing and took a shot at the goal along the left goal line. However, the shot went to the near side of the net for a corner kick that was unsuccessful.

However, two minutes later in the 65th minute, Pelham broke through once again to double up its lead as Matthew Chaux found the back of the net to make the lead 2-0.

Chaux then attempted to earn a second goal on the night two minutes later with a header off a cross that was ultimately handled by the Jackets.

From there, the Panthers continued to control the ball and the tempo as they saw out the 2-0 victory to advance to the second round.

Pelham will play the winner of Briarwood Christian and Bessemer City on either April 29 or 30 in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs.