BRYAN — For almost 75 minutes, Rudder played like the team that was in the hunt for the District 18-5A crown a month ago.
While injuries did in the Rangers’ hopes down the stretch of the regular season, it was Waco’s relentless pressure that did the trick in a Class 5A bi-district playoff on Friday night at Merrill Green Stadium.
The District 17-5A champion Lions scored two goals in the final six minutes and handed rudder its fourth consecutive loss with a 2-0 victory, advancing to an area-round playoff against Tomball Memorial.
Waco (17-2-2) put Rangers goalkeeper Ryan Hammond to work almost from the start despite both defenses proving difficult to break.
Hammond finished with 12 saves against 23 total shots by the Lions but it was a pair of tough-luck goals that were the difference.
“The whole game he came out and he was great,” Rudder coach Matt Winslow said about Hammond. “I can’t say enough about him. Senior. He played great.”
After Rudder’s Julio Garcia cleared a Waco shooting opportunity out to midfield with 5:25 to go, the Lions quickly went back on the attack with Derian De Lara playing the ball downfield to Juan Arroyo.
Arroyo went one-on-one against Eric Hausman and got the better of the Ranger, forcing a shot toward the lower left post as the two collided. The ball slipped under Hammond’s outstretched hand and bounced off the post into the net, making it 1-0 with 5:11 remaining.
Rudder’s hopes for a quick equalizer took a hit less than two minutes later when Waco was awarded a free kick from the top of the penalty box after a collision between the Rangers’ Rafael Esparza and the Lions’ Eric Diaz.
Diaz left the field with an injury and Jonathan Gonzalez took the free kick, sending it over a wall of Rudder defenders, just over Hammond’s hand, and off the crossbar to make it 2-0 with 3:29 to go.
“Rudder is a very, very strong team for a fourth-place team coming out of their district,” Waco coach Kris Kahler said. “I have a lot of respect for Coach Winslow and his guys. They took it to us last year and we expected the same this year. We knew it wasn’t going to be anything easy.”
Rudder’s shooting opportunities were few and far between against Waco’s stout defense in the first half but the Rangers had several chances in the second that they didn’t convert into goals.
Rudder’s best chance came just over five minutes into the second half when Garcia got a close-range follow-up shot off Esparza’s free kick from 35 yards out but had the ball pop straight up off his foot. Lions goalkeeper Pablo Negrete easily corralled the ball on the way down to end the threat.
With about 28 minutes to go, Andres Sotello beat a Waco defender one-on-one but drove the shot directly at Negrete, who finished with five saves against 12 shots by Rudder.
“In the first half we had a lot of opportunities but it was more one-on-one type stuff,” Winslow said.