CULLMAN — No. 1 Cullman built a 3-0 lead against No. 5 Albertville, but a resilient Aggie soccer squad refused to fold.
The Aggies fought back and kept the outcome in doubt until the final two minutes, when the host Bearcats netted an insurance goal to secure a 4-2 win in Saturday’s boys first-round Class 6A substate playoff match.
Cullman (20-4-2) ended Albertville’s 10-match winning streak. The Aggies finished 19-2, with their .905 winning percentage a single-season school record.
The Bearcats will meet defending state champion Fort Payne on Tuesday in the second round of the substate playoffs.
“We set a whole bunch of goals this season and we achieved pretty much all of them,” said AHS head coach Chad Oliver.
“We fell short today, but I think these seniors understand and we appreciate them for laying the foundation for these younger guys. I think getting a taste of it has lit a fire in these younger guys’ bellies.”
Cullman’s Ben Walker received a one-on-one opportunity in the box and tapped in a shot, giving the Bearcats a 1-0 lead with 29:24 left in the first half.
Isaac Rodriguez scored off an assist from Guilherme Albuquerque, making it 2-0 at the 26:01 mark.
Walker netted his second goal, this time from 25 yards out, extending Cullman’s margin to 3-0 with 18:25 remaining.
Eddie Vega passed to Christian Ramirez, who drilled a shot past the keeper to put AHS on the scoreboard with 14:09 to go in the first half.
The Aggies struck quickly in the second half, cutting their deficit to 3-2 when Ramirez scored off a breakaway with 39:32 left on the clock. Eric Reyes contributed the assist.
Ramirez and Reyes failed to connect on tough shots on goal down the stretch.
Cullman’s Miguel Tizapa-Robles netted the clinching goal with 1:56 remaining.
“I can’t ask our kids to come into a more hostile environment and respond like they did and just play the whole 80 minutes,” Oliver said. “We call it gut check.
“These guys went through a tremendous offseason. A grueling, Ohio State wrestling, gut-check offseason.
“We talked about dog soldiers. They stuck their stakes in the ground and they dog-soldier fought the whole 80 minutes. I couldn’t be more proud of them.
“When these seniors go out into the world, I think they’re going to do great things when they leave this place. I think we grew closer to the good Lord, and I think we’ve got great heads on our shoulders now. I think they’ll do great things in our community.
“Our Hispanic community is so huge, and I think they’re going to do great things for that and be great leaders there too.”