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The Midlothian Panthers boys' soccer team celebrates after winning the 5A Region I tournament on Saturday. (Courtesy MISD Athletics)

Panthers ready for State-ment: Heroics, team-first approach has Midlothian in 5A tourney

By Travis M. Smith | Ellis County Sports

GEORGETOWN — For the past couple decades, not years, Midlothian has become synonymous with soccer dominance. Panther blue, however, had not yet made its way to Georgetown. 

The narrative changed Saturday afternoon in Wichita Falls. 

Three Midlothian Panthers then found the back of the net in a lopsided 5A Region I championship match on Saturday, April 6, to remove the proverbial weight and send the program to its first-ever state soccer tournament. 

In fact, when the Panthers step onto Birkelbach Field in Georgetown on Thursday night, it will mark just the second state tournament appearance for any UIL team sport in Midlothian High history. The 5A state tournament kickoff will also further validate the efforts, heartbreak and continued reinvestment of legendary head coach Austin Guest — though he’s much too humble to admit it.

The Panthers have been led all season by a trio of 20-plus goal scorers: junior striker Ayden Hildreth (27 goals, 20 assists), senior striker Landon Exley (25 goals, 6 assists) and senior midfield Caden Naizer (20 goals, 20 assists). As far as Ellis County Sports can compile, the tandem of Hildreth and Naizer marked the first time the Panthers had a pair of 20-20 output seasons. 

All three added to their season totals in fantastic ways throughout the postseason. 

The Panthers opened the 5A playoff slate with a white-knuckle, 2-1, win against Grapevine before handling District 5-5A champion Justin Northwest rather easily, 5-2, in the area round. 

Senior forward Landon Exley (25 goals, 6 assists) netted both goals on assists from Caden Naizer and Ayden Hildreth in the bi-district round. Kyle Allen allowed the lone goal in the second half against Grapevine.

Naizer and Hildreth each recorded a brace and an assist in a 5-2 win against (12-6-6) Justin Northwest in the area round. Exley tallied his 3rd goal of the postseason, while Dawson Lopez contributed his 1st playoff assist in the second-round victory. 

The Panthers continued their march with another hold-your-breath-until-full-time win against Saginaw (3-2). And that might be an understatement.

The box score will tell you that Nazier netted his second-consecutive brace of the playoffs and Lopez his first goal in the 3-2 Panther win against the 13-win Saginaw side. Hildreth added 2 assists to his ledger, while freshman Gavin Czerwiseski recorded his first-career postseason assist and point in the third-round win. Czerwiseski entered the playoffs with 3 assists and 1 goal on the season in 27 matches played. 

What the box score won’t tell you, though, is that Saginaw attempted to clear a corner kick and send the match into overtime. The Panthers fielded that clear, which quickly found Dylan Lopez and then went off the chest of Czerwiseski to Naizer’s left foot. The senior drilled the ball through the upper-90 to the Saginaw goalie’s left for a 2-1 Midlothian lead with 31 seconds to play in regulation. 

Undoubtedly and despite the momentum, the Panthers walked onto the pitch at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls on Friday, April 5, as the underdogs to start the 5A Region I tournament. 

Monterey (District 4-5A champion) entered with an undefeated 23-0-2 record, having outscored their opposition 87-10. Led by junior goalkeeper Kenny Rasor (59 saves, 0.83 goals-against average), the Plainsmen had recorded 17 shutouts on the season. 

Monterey carried a 1-nil lead into the halftime break thanks to a Giovanni Cardenas goal in the sixth minute. That score held well into the second half and into the 67th minute.

The Panthers then benefitted from a scrum that led to a Jordan Barrera goal to knot the match at 1-all. Roughly 30 seconds of game time later, senior goalkeeper Kyle Allen sent a rocket to the moon and had the game-winner bounce over the head of the Plainsmen goalie and find its way into the goal 25 yards later.

Naizer and Jack Teufel officially accounted for the two assists. 

The Midlothian Panthers boys' soccer team celebrates after winning the 5A Region I tournament on Saturday. (Courtesy MISD Athletics)
The Midlothian Panthers boys’ soccer team celebrates after winning the 5A Region I tournament on Saturday. (Courtesy MISD Athletics)

The Panthers rode that momentum into a dominant 3-nil victory against (19-7-1) El Paso Burges on Saturday in Wichita Falls to clinch Midlothian High School’s first-ever trip to the state soccer tournament. It was just the third time on the season for the Mustangs to allow 3 or more goals in a single match. The only other two instances came in a 5-nil loss to El Paso Bel Air on Jan. 19 and 3-1 loss against El Paso Jefferson on Feb. 21.

Junior midfielder Dylan Petraniwskyj joined the goal-scoring party in the Panthers’ 5A Region I championship victory. He entered with 2 goals and an assist on the season. 

Fellow junior midfielder Presten Stanphill also recorded his first postseason point (assist). Barrera scored a goal in his second consecutive match, and Exley added his 4th goal and 1st assist of the playoffs. Hildreth also chipped in an assist.

Naizer heads to the 5A state tournament with 4 goals and 3 assists through the Panthers playoff run, while Hildreth has 2 goals and 5 assists pre-Georgetown. 

Senior goalkeeper Kyle Allen has spent all but 12 postseason minutes inside goal for the Panthers. He has allowed 5 goals through the five matches with one shutout thus far in the postseason. 

And because of those efforts, the Midlothian Panthers will take the field in the 5A state soccer tournament for the first time in school history Thursday night in Georgetown. 

Midlothian and (21-3-2) Baytown Goose Creek Memorial will serve as Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. nightcap at Birkelbach Field in Georgetown. This will mark the first state tournament appearance for either team. The game can be streamed on NFHS. 

The winner will face the winner of (29-0-1) Leander Glenn and (18-5-3) Frisco Wakeland at 1:30 p.m. Saturday for the 5A state title. 

______

Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith

tsmith@elliscosports.com

About Travis M. Smith

Travis M. Smith is the owner and content director of Ellis County Sports and has over a decade of award-winning sports coverage. He most recently served as the digital sports director for KBEC 1390AM/99.1FM. He is the former managing editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light, Midlothian Mirror and Glen Rose Reporter.

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