It was appropriate that as the game ended Tuesday night, Sammie Gutierrez was on ball, bearing down on another offensive attack. Because Edinburg North’s freshman phenom was all over the pitch against McAllen Memorial, notching two assists and figuring in two other goals as the Lady Cougars remained unbeaten this year with a 5-2 win at home.
Every year coaches and fans like to tout various newcomers as players who could end up making a difference down the road, and the buzz following Gutierrez has been nothing short of resounding. Usually, newbies do some good things and occasionally warrant all the hype thrown their way. Seldom do they become go-to kids right off the bat.
But peeps, Sammy is for real!
Let sister Paige, a senior star for the club, tell it like it is, after she, sis, and Katy Lipscomb sliced and diced their way to five scores, for a total of 37 in eight games so far in 2008-09, with the freshman having assisted on 14 of those.
“My sister has really helped open the offense up, she has enabled Katy and me to be more efficient. Instead of running up and down the field so much, we are getting great passes from Sam and we’re putting the ball in the net. We’re letting the ball do the work now.”
The great Lipscomb, last year’s All-Valley MVP, now has 12 goals after a pair Tuesday, while the elder Gutierrez got one to make eight for her. With Sammy in the middle, handling like a college-bound senior and sending wicked feeds into the zone at the right time and place with either foot, the Lady Cougars could be even better than they have been the past two years — and they’ve won five playoff games in that span.
As for the tremendous fanfare surrounding her incredible gifted sister, who is a already affiliated with the U.S. Olympic Developmental squad at age 14, Paige Gutierrez displayed the same humility and insight she’s had since becoming a starter her freshman year (sound familiar?).
“No, not at all, I’m not tired of hearing about her, she’s made us so much better out there,” she said. “And now, as we have played together as a team for eight games, I think Katy knows what to expect from her. She knows how we play now, and we’ve all come together nicely.”
Sammy is not terribly big, but she plays iron-strong, and her superb instincts honed from so many years of club soccer enable her to reach the ball first, and control it with magic feet and the ability to see the field at touch. Against Memorial, always one of the toughest Valley outfits, record-wise and otherwise, she was sharp from the start, creating four scoring chances in the first 10 minutes.
Lipscomb missed a point-blank try in the first 90 seconds off a mammoth throw-in to the box from junior Destiny Rodriguez, but at 27:56, Sammy Gutierrez chased one down deep right and looped a beautiful pass 30 yards into the zone, where Lipscomb found it and pushed it in for a 1-0 lead.
North won seemingly every ball in the half, and at one point, a Memorial girl complained aloud, “Why are they first to every ball?!”
Soon after, the fabulous freshman nailed a kick into the throat of a defender, staggering the poor gal and eliciting a cheer of “Nice shot!” from a less-than-sensitive Lady Coog rooter.
The trio continued its excellent passing game as the half went on, and keeper Mercedes Mendoza stopped a golden Lady Mustang chance with a grand kick save at 16:30. Lanky Edna Gonzalez, stepping in on defense to help replace a graduation-depleted backline, was solid at stopper, in front of Andrea “Red” Gonzalez, who has moved back to sweeper from her forward slot of 2007-08.
Three times, Sammy then advanced into scoring territory, shuffling the ball off to open teammates, though no scratch was seen. At 8:20, though. Lipscomb forced into the box, with Graciela Ledezma closing in to help. Lipscomb bodied one into the net for a 2-0 lead and it was all North.
As the team rebuilds its defense with newcomers, there will be growing pains, like at 1:58 when Memorial star Hayley Munoz fought her way through a confused back for a goal to cut the margin to one.
Paige Gutierrez said that the defenders, mainly underclassmen including promising Aleyna Perez (one of five 9th-graders on the roster), are learning as they go.
“They are getting more aggressive each game,” she commented. “The problems we’ve had, they are the kind we can fix, and we will. There’s a lot of pressure on them, and we may yell at them sometimes, but we have confidence they will do the job.”
Memorial tied it at 2 eight minutes into the second, as the Lady Mustangs became more physical, at times perhaps excessively so. But when Erica Garcia scored, North took it as a challenge.
Sammy Gutierrez came back with two fierce runs, clanking one off the left post, and Lipscomb sped to a near goal as well. Finally, it was Paige who answered the enemy’s equalizer, punching a score off a spectacular through ball from her sister at 27:35.
Like a shark after blood, the Younger Gutierrez carved away at the tiring Memorial D, beating two girls for a perfect centering ball that none of her teammates were ready for. Then she broke out of the pack to duel the keeper but came up empty 1-on-1 at 16:03.
The breathing room came from Vicky Dominguez, a versatile junior who played well in the midfield before spending the last part of the second at sweeper. She was stopped on a close shot at 10:17 but rebounded the miss to sneak past the tender and make it 4-2.
Lipscomb ended the scoring barrage with a sweet header off a Paige Gutierrez corner kick at 3:44, and the Lady Cougars remained unbeaten, with a home game Friday against Rio Grande City to go before opening up 31-5A play against Harlingen Tuesday night.
With the Gutierrez Show (plus Katy) in high gear, the team is looking tough these days, and Paige concluded that she and the other seniors are paving the way for the outstanding crop of youngsters.
“We have a nice mix here with new and veterans, we are going to leave them in good shape after this year,” she promised. “It will only get easier for the freshmen now that they know what it’s like to play at this level.”
NOTES: Friday, the Lady Coogs overwhelmed RGC, 11-0, as Ledezma and Paige Gutierrez scored twice and newcomer Viri Torres - out with an injury thus far - made her debut with a pair of goals. The boys won 3-2 in a big win against Brownsville Pace, as Cesar Barajas, in his first appearance after getting eligibility issues cleared up, notched two scores.
HOOPS ROUNDUP: Led by Dani Vargas’ 18 points, the Lady Cougars of Edinburg North scored a one-point win Friday against P-SJ-A, to rise to 5-4 in District 31-5A and hang on to the fourth playoff spot after nine games.
Vargas nailed a pair of three-pointers to give her 44 for the season, as the Lady Cougars looked to road games at Econ Tuesday and Pharr North Friday.
The Lady Bobcats (7-2) of EHS dropped a 43-42 decision to Harlingen and are now tied in second place with the Lady Cards, two games behind unbeaten Harlingen South.
On the boys’ side, EHS upended Harlingen by 15 to end the first half of league play unmarked at 7-0, as Chris Flores threw in 17, with four treys. North dropped its third successive close one, losing 56-52 against P-SJ-A. The Coogs (2-5) had been on the short side against EHS (by 7) and Harlingen (by 4) before losing a 3-point lead after three quarters Friday. They take on Econ Tuesday in a must-win situation.