East boys soccer look for another playoff win
April 9, 2012 at 11 p.m.
Updated April 8, 2012 at 11:09 p.m.
Tim Eaton and Brady Cagle have constructed a defense that has taken its fair share of body blows, but refuses to break.
The Victoria East boys soccer team has plugged in a handful of defenders ahead of goalkeepers Ricky Stratmann and Esau Lopez, yet the unit is as impregnable as ever. Through 23 games the Titans (18-3-2) have conceded just 16 times.
The reconfigured defense will once again need to be at its best Tuesday night when the Titans face Pharr Valley View in a Class 4A regional quarterfinal.
East has won its three playoff games by just two goals. Meanwhile, the Tigers (24-1-2) have outscored opponents 19-0 in three playoff matches and will look to make their fourth regional semifinal in six years.
Though the defense has rotated, one constant has been goalkeeper Ricky Stratmann.
The sophomore saved a penalty kick in a tie game in the Titans' 2-1 victory over Kingsville. He made a pair of point blank saves in the area playoffs - as well as a save in the shootout - in the area round win over San Antonio Harlandale. All of that was before he recorded a shutout in Thursday's 1-0 win in the sectional round.
In 220 minutes of playoff action between the posts, Stratmann has allowed just one goal.
"It's definitely been an experience. Every game is a challenge," Stratmann said. "I really couldn't do it without my defense. They have definitely saved my butt at lot. Everyone is talking, communicating and working together."
Tuesday night the four in front of Stratmann will once again be tweaked. David Andrade has been a central defender for most of the season, but he broke his nose in the postgame brawl following the April 5 victory over Harlandale.
Andrade will try to play with a mask for his nose, but will likely not start. In his place will be senior Joel Gonzales, who has been deployed in the midfield this spring.
"It's mostly communication back there. You can't lose focus," said East defender Eric Mansker about the Titans .695 goals against average. "It's communication with Ricky about when to step, when to cover and when to be the second defender. You just have to do your job and communicate."
Gonzales and fellow Mansker have been friends for years. Gonzales was a defender in 2011, so the shift will not be foreign to either senior. It might even allow East to begin attacks further up the field than in the past.
"We are going to have to score at least two," said Eaton, the Titans head coach who has coached in Victoria for more than 25 years. "We are not going to get by on one goal. We have to score off at least one restart."
Eaton said his team would need to score off a set piece last week and the Titans went out and did just that.
It's not that Eaton does not have confidence in Stratmann, just the opposite. A one-goal lead is extremely tough to protect and the Titans have won games this season not relying on one player, or one area of the field.
Such togetherness, on and off the field, through physical contests between the whistles and after is a large reason why coaches, players and parents believe the Titans have advanced farther than any Victoria varsity soccer team in 11 years.
Eaton is hoping the community will make the 90-plus mile drive to see that bond in person Tuesday night.
"I think it will have a good impact on the guys, they would like that," Eaton said. "They deserve it. Out of any team in Victoria they deserve it just as much as anyone else."