High School Boys Soccer

Magana lifts Paetow to 1st playoff win

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 3/26/21

Paetow senior Hessler Magana had no doubt, seemingly oblivious to the magnitude of the moment. Pressure, as great as it stood, was apparently irrelevant.

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High School Boys Soccer

Magana lifts Paetow to 1st playoff win

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Paetow senior Hessler Magana had no doubt, seemingly oblivious to the magnitude of the moment. Pressure, as great as it stood, was apparently irrelevant.

First round of the playoffs, tied game, first playoff win in program history at stake, and the precocious midfielder’s eyes lit up as he steadied his steps and launched a rocket of a shot from about 30 yards out.

Nothing but the back of the net.

Magana’s right-footed heater of a kick from dead center with 12:06 left in the game lifted the Panthers to a 3-2 win over New Caney in their Class 5A Region III bi-district playoff game Thursday evening at Legacy Stadium, writing another chapter of program history in the process.

“Man, I knew that was my shot,” a gleeful Magana said. “I was going for it. I felt it. I felt the space and it came out in my favor. That was a big goal for me. I feel very proud. I’m happy.”

Paetow, coming off its second consecutive District 19-5A championship, advanced to the area round in improving to 16-3-5. Though the Panthers qualified for the playoffs and won the district last year, the postseason was canceled because of the pandemic. In 2019, the Panthers impressively made the playoffs in their inaugural year of varsity play but fell to Kingwood Park in their postseason debut.

“I don’t even know what kind of emotions I’m feeling,” coach Vincenzo Vaccaro said. “I just feel so happy for these boys. They pushed through. They always do this. When things don’t go as planned, they always seem to push through, so I have a lot of hope for the next round and going forward.”

Paetow led 2-1 at halftime. Junior Dominic Posada put the Panthers on the board with 14:11 left in the first half on an assist from Magana. Forty-three seconds later, junior Lukas Herrera, who was brilliant as an initiator all game with his speed, ballhandling and craftiness on the wing, struck from the right side with a shot to the high back left side of the net off a find from Posada for a 2-0 lead.

New Caney (10-9) countered when sophomore Miguel Rodriguez’s shot teasingly eluded junior goalkeeper Ismael Espinosa, who came out too high, with 11:01 left in the half.

The Panthers had no issue generating chances. They had a handful of quality looks in the first half, and almost double that amount in the second.

“We were getting perfect balls on the runs, the through balls. Perfect,” Herrera said. “It was easy out there.”

Finishing, however, was a problem.

“It was kind of sloppy,” Vaccaro said. “We didn’t finish when we needed to finish. We got antsy. I felt like the kids were nervous. We put a lot of pressure on them, and that’s what we’re going to do just with our style and them being more of a counter (attack) team. With the chances we did get right in front of the goal, that we kind of planned out, we weren’t putting them away. We could’ve done a better job.”

The oh-so-close chances almost caught up with Paetow. New Caney tied the game with 13:06 left on Rodriguez’s second goal.

But the Panthers never wavered.

The first sign was Magana’s shot that came exactly a minute later, a confident delivery that sailed high over the reach of senior goalkeeper Fernando Rodriguez.

“He’s done it before,” Vaccaro said of Magana. “It came off his foot right, and right off the kick I could hear it. Two weeks ago, he hit the same shot. He’s done it before.”

Magana knew.

“Right when I hit, I knew it was going in,” he said. “It felt good off my foot, everything. I knew it. I was celebrating before I even shot it.”

The other sign of Paetow’s poise under pressure was the ramped-up intensity of the defense, led by senior Sebastian Jaramillo and Espinosa, whose vocal leadership was inspiring as he was aggressive playing any and all New Caney attacks late.

Vaccaro was emotional after the game, emphasizing how proud and joyful he was watching his players—“my family,” he said— celebrate and bask in history. He looked on longingly as they took pictures with fans, with each other and with family.

“To experience this with them is very special,” Vaccaro said. “Any enjoyment they get means the world to me.”

After the hardships of losing a postseason last year and waiting two years to avenge a playoff loss, there was much to enjoy

“It’s amazing,” Posada said. “We go hard, and we go strong. Our hearts are on this field, or else we wouldn’t get the results we get. We have confidence. We know we’re capable.”

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