By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
Leo Donahue Tiger Stadium will be the place to be today when the Fort Gibson boys and girls soccer teams play their Class 4A semifinal matches.
The Lady Tigers, No. 2 in the final Okrankings.com Class 4A poll, host No. 7 Piedmont at 5:30 p.m. in the first semifinal while the Tigers, No. 4 in Class 4A, take on No. 2 Santa Fe South following the girls’ match.
“It should be an exciting atmosphere,” said Fort Gibson girls coach Jaime Snyder.
That would be an understatement. It’s the first time either team has advanced this far and on top of that, there’s the advantage of playing at home.
The Lady Tigers (11-1) enter the match riding a nine-match winning streak with their last loss coming at Catoosa on March 14. Piedmont (14-2-1) has won 11 straight with its last loss coming to Harrah, also on March 14.
During its streak, Piedmont has surrendered only two goals. When it comes to scouting the Lady Wildcats, Snyder has to only look in the mirror.
“From what I understand, their coach focuses on defense,” she said. “I did the research and they’ve given up 14 goals all year and we’ve given up 11. So we’re both a couple of defensive teams.”
On the offensive side, the Lady Tigers have the advantage of not just one player to rely on but four that can put the ball into the net. Brooke Benham and Jordan Raynor are the leading goal scorers with 10 each while Lillian Bear and Gabby Escamillia are right behind with nine goals each.
“We have a lot of speed on our team and that’s why we have several girls that can score,” Snyder said. “That’s not saying that Piedmont’s not fast, that’s just one of the things I didn’t hear from other coaches about them.”
On the boys side, the Tigers will face a Santa Fe South squad comes into tonight’s match sporting a 12-3 record with losses to 6A Edmond Santa Fe, Enid and Grant.
“The play strong defense just looking at their scores,” said Fort Gibson boys coach Todd Friend. “They were state runner-up last year so I imagine they’re a pretty good team.”
Just like the Lady Tigers, the Tigers can rely on several weapons. Wyatt Abbott, Trent Brown, Johan Chavez, Zach Cobler, Austin and Levi Ford gives Friend an advantage he likes.
“That’s our benefit,” Friend said. “We’ve got a lot of weapons. If you shut down one, you have to shut down another one so it’s tough. We have a really balanced offense and that’s been the key so far.”
Should someone from Santa Fe South get someone in attack position, goalkeeper Daniel Mielnik should make it very difficult to score.
“He’s done a great job so far this season,” Friend said. “Our defense is fast and sound. They understand how to play the game.”
So for the Tigers to move on to the state finals on Saturday at Tulsa University, Friend is keeping it simple, as he has all season.
“We just have to go out and play loose,” Friend said. “We just need to have fun and play our game. Like I’ve told them all year, ‘If you play your game, you’ll do fine.’”