By Randy Jennings / Contributor
CARROLLTON — The scrappy style that became a trademark for the Highland Park boys soccer team was a constant right to the end.
As time grew shorter and Frisco Lone Star’s 2-0 lead looked like too big a hill to climb, the all-out effort still persisted.
“I don’t think there is a team,” said HP head coach Salvador Richie, “that works harder than ours.”
Lone Star made two first-half goals by J.J. Hernandez stand up for a 2-0 victory, eliminating the Scots in a Class 5A Region II semifinal on Friday at Standridge Stadium.
HP’s season ended with some tears but also a feeling of accomplishment for its 19-3-3 record and the program’s first trip to the fourth round of the playoffs since 2012.
“We started as an unknown, a little off the radar,” said Richie. “Over the season, these guys matured into a team.”
The Rangers (21-1-3), who won only two games last year and had never won a playoff game before this season, ended 20 minutes of scoreless play with two goals in a five-minute stretch of the first half.
The flurry began when Hernandez fired a shot that was deflected on a dive by HP goalkeeper Kyle Barron, but a subsequent foul in the box led to a Hernandez penalty kick for a 1-0 lead.
Five minutes later, Hernandez got on the board again for his team-high 14th goal. After accepting a pass from his left, he found himself one-on-one with Barron. His choice of the near post from 13 yards was a wise one.
Lone Star was aided in the first half by a wind that lost velocity when it was time for the Scots to change ends in the second half.
“We only had five seniors but their leadership was outstanding,” said Richie. “All seasons end in tears. But these guys have done a lot for our program and me personally.”
HP’s best chance in the first half came in the final minute when Brant Williams’ 25-yard shot from the left flank was on target but a little high. In the second half, from close range, Jake Whitehurst hit the crossbar.
“I’d like to know what might have happened if we had converted on some of those chances,” Richie said.