Panthers’ struggles on set pieces prove costly in loss to Fitzgerald

Published 2:58 am Wednesday, February 15, 2023

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AMERICUS – The Sumter County boys’ soccer team gave its all in its Region 1-AA match against Fitzgerald (FHS) at Alton Shell Stadium Tuesday night. The match was a high-scoring, exciting and physical affair between both clubs, but faulty defending on set pieces (corner kicks, free kicks, etc.) on the part of the Panthers throughout the match proved costly and helped lead to a 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Purple Hurricanes.

In spite of the loss, SCHS Head Coach Michael Pepito was extremely proud of the grit his club showed throughout the match against a quality opponent in FHS, particularly with the injuries the Panthers have suffered. However, he was disappointed with his club’s defensive lapses throughout the match.

“With some people being somewhat injured and playing injured, I’m glad it’s the beginning of the season, but you know, this was a game that I felt that we could have done a lot better in,” Pepito said. “I think that with people out of position sometimes, we didn’t block through the middle like we were supposed to. We didn’t mark up like we were supposed to. We’ve got to play a game from beginning to end and I think that sometimes if we’re ahead, just changing that mentality that once the whistle blows, we’re all in or all out. I’m glad we finished the game. Unfortunately, we finished it in a loss.”

Both teams had a good bit of the run of play in the first half and both teams created chances to score, but in the in the 12th minute, the Panthers got on the board first when Ary Flores drilled a free kick from about 40 yards out into the back of the net to give SCHS a 1-0 lead.

Then in the 30th minute, the Panthers were awarded another free kick and Flores delivered again, using his powerful left foot to beat the FHS keeper and making the score 2-0 in favor of SCHS.

The Purple Hurricanes were able to create chances of their own, but SCHS goalkeeper Cruz Horn was able to stop two consecutive shots to keep FHS off the scoreboard.

Sumter County forward Ary Flores scored two goals on free kicks in the Panthers’ 4-3 loss to Fitzgerald.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

However, the Purple Hurricanes were able to break through with just a few seconds left before halftime when Javier Hernandez sent a corner kick into the box and Nathan Cox was able to get his foot on the ball and send it past Horn, cutting the Panthers’ advantage to 2-1 at the half.

In the early minutes of the second half, the Panthers committed a foul that would eventually cost them a goal. Kavon Hart was issued a yellow card for a high kick to the face of an FHS player and Flores would also be issued a yellow card for delay of game. This led to a free kick for the Purple Hurricanes and it in involved the same two players who were involved in the first FHS goal. Hernandez sent the ball into the box and Cox was once again there to put the ball in the net, tying the match at 2-2.

A few minutes later, the Purple Hurricanes took the lead when Hernandez sent a corner kick into the box and Justin Garcia was able to score. In a matter of minutes, the Panthers saw their lead evaporate and they trailed FHS 3-2.

In spite of giving up two goals on set pieces, the Panthers did not quit and it paid off. With a little over 14 minutes to play, Creighton Myers slotted the ball past the FHS keeper, tying the match at 3-3.

Unfortunately for SCHS, with 12:55 to play, Kavon Hart fouled an FHS player from behind and was issued another yellow card. Being it was his second yellow card, he was issued a red card and was sent off. This left the Panthers a man down and it proved costly, as Garcia would later take the ball down the left flank and slot it past Horn for his second goal of the match and the fourth for the Purple Hurricanes. With a little over 10 minutes left to play, the Panthers found themselves behind FHS 4-3.

SCHS tried to mount a scoring attack over the final 10 minutes, but were not able to get the equalizer and fell to FHS 4-3.

SCHS is now 4-1 overall and 0-1 in GHSA Region 1-AA competition. The Panthers will try to rebound from this setback when they travel to Nashville, GA on Friday, February 17, to take on Berrien in another region match. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.