As high school soccer matches go, this one took on the feel of a heavyweight kickboxing fight.

It took far more than 12 rounds, but Robinson sealed it with a knockout kick.

Every time Robinson landed a resounding blow, China Spring ramped up its energy level and provided an answer. But in the third set of penalty kicks, Robinson’s Romeo Diaz delivered the noisiest kick of the night with the match-winner for the Rockets, 5-4.

The loss was the first of the district campaign for China Spring (15-8 overall, 12-1 District 17-4A), and delayed the Cougars from claiming an outright district title for at least another night. Meanwhile, Robinson (12-9, 9-4) sewed up a playoff spot with what could be a breakthrough win for the Rockets’ program.

“I’ve got to tell you something, these boys come out and work every single day,” said first-year Robinson coach Cain Quiroz, a former assistant coach at University High School. “They are willing to learn. It’s still a learning game. We have a lot of youth on this team, we have about three or four seniors that play and provide leadership. It was nothing but a team effort, that’s all I can attribute it to. They’re starting to become a team at the right time. That’s what I just finished telling them, and that’s what helps us.”

Both Quiroz and China Spring coach Andy Pell said that they’d never been a part of a match that came down to a third set of penalty kicks. But that’s just how closely-contested this highly entertaining battle turned out to be.

The teams were tied at 4 after regulation. In years past, that would have forced an overtime period, but a new district rule this year would send matches immediately to a penalty kick shootout, with each team picking five players to put their best foot forward, so to speak.

Here’s the kicker, though – both the Cougars and Rockets each netted three goals and missed two attempts in the first round of penalty kick attempts.

In the regular season, they would have just chalked it up to a tie. But in district play, they keep going to get an outcome.

So, a second set of penalty kicks ensued, with five new kickers for both teams, mostly unproven, younger players eager for a shot to play hero. Two of the first four of those kickers for both teams found the net, but both sets of goalkeepers came up with match-clinching saving blocks on the fifth attempt.

Now what? Well, that brought a third set of penalty kick tries, this time in a sudden death setup. So, after China Spring’s Caleb Iverson saw his shot knocked away by the Robinson keeper, that opened the escape hatch for the Rockets. And they finally slipped through, when Diaz thumped one into the left side of the net for the winner.

“These kids made it exciting,” Quiroz said. “There were kids willing to take shots, and even those that missed, when we went to the second round, they were ready to go again. They were like, ‘Coach, I can do it this time.’ I like that fight, and I think that showed in the game. We would score, they would score. They were willing to fight to the end.”

China Spring’s Pell said that he hopes his team learns from a playoff-type battle like this.

“It’s disappointing to not go undefeated, that was our goal. But we learn from this,” Pell said. “We learn what it means to prepare properly, not to believe anything is given to us already. Just be fully prepared every game, no matter who we’re going against and what the situation is.”

Robinson pushed the Cougars back onto the heels of their cleats with an early goal. At the 31:02 mark, Jacob Taylor staged on his own personal episode of “So You Think You Can Dance.” Taylor displayed some nifty footwork to get a bit of space before rolling a sweet centering pass to Cam Perryman, who redirected the ball past the Cougar keeper for the goal.

China Spring capitalized on a costly Robinson penalty to tie the score. With 18:02 left in the half, the referee whistled the Rockets for a penalty in the goalie box. That gave the Cougars a penalty kick, and Iverson easily knocked the ball into the back of the net.

Robinson refused to go away, though. The Rockets stayed aggressive, and regained the lead at 2-1 when Taylor sprinted ahead of the Cougar defense, sidestepped the charging China Spring goalkeeper, then poked the ball into the empty net at the 8:35 mark.

China Spring needed no time at all to supply the equalizer. On the next trip down the field, the Cougars’ Manny Lopez found a seam and punched in the launch codes for a 20-yard rocket that brought the score to 2-2.

The match continued to follow that same pattern in the second half. China Spring looked like it might slip away when Tanner Brown scored the go-ahead goal with 11:13 to go, but Diaz scored the tying goal with 4:57 on a nifty toe punch from 10 yards out.

GIRLS Robinson 1, China Spring 0 (4-3 PKs)

In a game of who’s going to blink first, Robinson was able to have the last laugh.

Jaylee Anderson scored the game-winning goal on Robinson’s very last penalty kick try, and the Rockettes were able to slip away with the win thanks to a 4-3 penalty kick advantage.

Both teams had their chances to score in regulation, including a couple of golden chances in the final 10 minutes. Robinson’s Kenly Springman missed wide with about eight minutes to play, and China Spring’s Lindsey Schiller shot loose on a downfield run, but missed high of the goal with 1:59 to go.

With the teams scoreless at regulation end, that sent things to penalty kicks. Each of the teams’ first two kickers took care of business with little problem, and then China Spring’s Taylor Brown put her team up 3-2 on the Lady Cougars’ third attempt. Robinson’s Kara Eaton followed with a slow roller that China Spring goalie Maddy Flores corralled easily.

But the Lady Cougars couldn’t keep that advantage, as Breanna Giedt’s ensuing grounder was turned back by Robinson’s Alyssa Thomas. The Rockettes’ Kaci Newton capitalized, tying things up at 3-3 with a soft net-tickler to the right side to close out the fourth set of kickers.

Finally, China Spring missed on its fifth try, opening the door for Anderson, who uncorked a gorgeous bender for the winner. The victory by Robinson (10-9-1, 6-5) keeps the Rockettes’ playoff hopes alive entering the team’s final regular season game at Gatesville on Friday. China Spring fell to 14-9-1 overall and 7-4 in district with the defeat.

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