The St. Pius X boys’ soccer team became the TAPPS Division I state runner-ups for the first time in program history following an impressive playoff run in Coach Nick Merricks’ third year at the helm.
The Panthers entered the year after coming off of a subpar 2015-2016 campaign that saw them finish 5-7-4 overall, as they lost four of their last five games, including their first round postseason exit.
SPX began the new season much like they finished the previous one, losing seven of their first eight and getting shut out in five of the losses. Before entering district play, though, SPX followed up their sluggish start to the season by winning their next four and turning the tables by shutting out three of their opponents to close out exhibition play.
They started district play against their crosstown rival St. Thomas Catholic High School. The Eagles upstaged SPX 2-1 after a hard fought battle on the Panthers’ turf.
They were able to bounce back in their following matchup, which was a high-scoring shootout versus the Saint John XXIII College Preparatory Lions. St. Pius X would go on to split the season series with the Lions after falling 3-2 to them three weeks later in Katy.
The Panthers’ next game was another close call, as they fell to eventual district champion Awty International. They were once again able to rebound following the loss to Awty by winning their next two in similar 2-1 fashion against Village High School and Monsignor Kelly, which put them at 3-2 in district play.
Another loss to Awty in the ensuing game sandwiched the two wins. This time they lost to the Rams by a 7-2 margin, dropping them to .500 in the league and 8-10 on the year.
The resilient Panthers won two of their next three, with both wins coming against Concordia Lutheran, giving them the tiebreaker over the Crusaders should they have needed it to earn the final playoff spot.
Village High handed SPX their next defeat in the same 2-1 way that the Panthers beat the Vikings in the teams’ previous encounter.
Three days later, they headed south on Shepherd Street to take on St. Thomas in their second meeting of the season. The Eagles were able to sweep the season series over the Panthers, this time grabbing the victory in a 3-0 shutout.
The Panthers closed out the regular season with a much needed win over Monsignor Kelly, which did two things: put SPX back at .500 in district and gave them a one-game lead over Kelly.
SPX entered the postseason slated to play the Brownsville St. Joseph Academy Bloodhounds, who were favored as the home team with the better record.
The Panthers stunned St. Joseph on their home field with a 3-2 victory to set up a second round meeting with arch-nemesis St. Thomas. The Panthers would not be denied for a third time after losing the regular season series to the Eagles and walked off the neutral field with a narrow 2-1 win, sending them to the state semifinal.
For the third straight game, SPX started the game as underdogs as they lined up across Antonian Preparatory Academy, the no. 197 ranked team in the state. The game was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation and headed to extra minutes where junior Nic Medina scored the game-winning goal to give the Panthers their first state championship game berth.
In the title game, the odds were stacked heavily against the Cinderella team from Houston as they took the field versus the 11th-ranked team in Texas in San Antonio’s Central Catholic, who also happen to be no. 63 in the country.
Despite the momentum that the SPX was able to build up over the course of their improbable playoff run, the Buttons appeared to be too much for them as Central Catholic berated and overwhelmed the Panther defense. The Buttons scored five consecutive goals before the half, including four in a 14-minute span.
Early in the second half, Central Catholic added one more goal to seal the game, although the Panthers would not go down without a fight. With a minute remaining in regulation, the Panthers would score to avoid the shutout.
While a loss in the state title game is likely to sting, the Panthers should feel a huge sense of pride for never giving up and overcoming great odds to make it there in the first place.