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RICHARDSON—With a District 9-6A title on the line, the J.J. Pearce Mustangs had to deal with the unenviable combination of an emotional Senior Night ceremony and longtime nemesis Lake Highlands.

Scoffing at the potential pitfalls, the Mustangs put together one of their finest displays of the season, dominating the visiting Wildcats, 3-1, Tuesday night, to claim the 9-6A crown.
After moving to the top of the Dallas Morning News’ area soccer poll last week, the undefeated Mustangs (11-0-2 in district, 21-0-4 overall) got goals from Cole Martin, Adrian Munoz and Taka Miller to eliminate any 9-6A title intrigue from Friday’s game at Skyline. Lake Highlands, which had already secured a playoff spot, dropped to 6-4-3 in district, 11-6-3 overall.
Pearce Coach Sean Dowlatshahi has seen enough Senior Nights go south to know that his squad couldn’t take anything for granted, especially against the Wildcats. With 15 seniors — Antonio Vivero, Rafa Hernandez, Levi Chavoya-Ellis, Connor Jones, Matt Zimmerman, Zach Dieterich, Luca Lenardon, Josh Harris, Nick Kazanas, Martin, Nathan Jackson, Kent Malloy, Miguel Benitez, Alex Duarte, Clay Servin, and manager Jake Ashenden — Dowlatshahi took the game to the visitors from the opening whistle.

“I’m very proud of the boys,” the coach said during the prolonged postgame celebration. “The last two times we’ve played Lake Highlands on Senior Night, they kept us from winning district and almost knocked us out of the playoffs. But it’s so special to win district. We came out knowing we had to attack them. Our pressure led to a couple of chances for them, but that was a risk we were willing to take.

“We played really well and just dominated them from the start.”
Following their previous home outing before spring break in which they needed a last-minute goal against an inspired W.T. White bunch to eke out a win, the Mustangs looked much crisper and threatening from the beginning. In fact, only a few mishit balls kept Pearce from scoring earlier as Jones, Harris and Martin all had solid scoring chances in the first 12 minutes.
But after a Martin header was cleared out of the Lake Highlands area, Ellis sent it right back in to Martin, whose second headed attempt eluded Wildcats keeper Adis Salihovic at the 26:45 mark for a lead Pearce would not relinquish.

“The last few games, we hadn’t been scoring as many goals as we had earlier in the season,” said Martin, who had a chance at a second first-half goal denied on an acrobatic Salihovic save just before the half. “Scoring like we did tonight was big; hopefully we can get back into a groove offensively right before the playoffs.”

As the Pearce offense repeatedly threatened the rest of the half, Servin kept the score line at 1-0 heading into the break. In one of the few times he was called on, the senior keeper made a timely save on a Trey Reed shot that seemed destined for the far corner 11:35 from intermission.
The Mustangs maintained the offensive pressure in the second half but needed goal-saving efforts from Duarte between the posts to keep the lead. He snuffed out a one-on-one chance for Braedyn Moore, saved an Alonzo Fraire free kick, and secured a shot from Reed on the ensuing corner. Duarte’s booming clearance after denying Reed ignited a Pearce counterattack that eventually saw Gabe Rodriguez roll a perfect pass to Munoz for what became the game-winner at the 25:20 mark.

“Our one goal from the start was to win district with an undefeated record,” Duarte said. “We proved against a quality team that we can take anything and stay chill and composed.”
Pearce put the game out of reach at the 15:30 mark when, following a Lenardon throw-in, Martin was able to tap the ball out of scrum in front of the Wildcat net to Miller for a 3-0 lead. Moore came back with a Lake Highlands goal off a perfectly taken free kick three minutes later for the final tally, but the Mustangs ran out the clock to secure the league title.

The Mustangs Junior Varsity 1 squad notched a 5-0 victory earlier Tuesday behind two goals from Sam Paquette and a score apiece from Guti Gonzalez, Jonah Ableman and Luis Ramirez. Despite a Noam Summey goal off a feed from Dylan Tello, Pearce’s JV 2 team fell to Prosper, 2-1.
Pearce concludes the district slate Friday at Forrester Field against host Skyline. The JV 2 game is scheduled for a 4:30 p.m. kickoff, followed by the JV 1 game at 6. The varsity contest, scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m., may be of the utmost importance for the Raiders. If Berkner beat Richardson Tuesday, Skyline will need a win against Pearce or a Rams loss to Lake Highlands to reach the playoffs.
 
Team
District
Overall
y- J.J. Pearce
11-0-2
21-0-4
x- Coppell
10-1-2
16-2-3
x- Lake Highlands
6-4-3
11-6-3
Skyline
5-6-2
9-8-3
Berkner
3-8-1
4-10-2
Jesuit
3-5-5
5-6-7
W.T. White
2-8-3
7-9-4
Richardson
1-9-2
3-12-4
 
y-clinched district title
x-clinched playoff berth
 
Contributed by Sam Jackson 
Photo credit: Albert Pena G3 Photography