With a 3-1 win at Lander on Friday and a 3-2 overtime nail-biter at Pinedale on Saturday, the Powell High School boys’ soccer team has moved into the No. 2 spot in the conference with just two regular-season games remaining.
“We were glad to go on the road and get two wins back-to-back,” said PHS head coach Dave Gilliatt. “That’s always a challenge, no matter who you’re playing.”
After a quiet start to his senior season, Panther forward Rob Sessions has found his groove of late; last year’s leading scorer notched a goal and an assist against the Tigers, and scored twice against the Wranglers, including the game winner in overtime.
“He’s [Sessions] has flipped a switch,” Gilliatt said. “I think he’s bought into the team system, the team mentality. As a result, he’s less predictable. He’s making quality passes, which opens up the opportunity for him to take quality shots. He’s a good player; he’s peaking at the right time.”
It will be another busy week for the Panthers (10-4, 5-3 in 3A West), who host Lander on Thursday, then travel to Riverton on Saturday. Thursday’s game is Senior Night, where Sessions and teammates Steven Shopa and Dylan Lowery will be honored for their efforts.
“I’ve got three seniors, so I plan on starting those guys [against Lander],” Gilliatt said. “They’re all very capable players, so we’ll be fine there.”
With a 5-7 record going into Friday’s contest, Lander has proven itself dangerous to underestimate — something Cody learned the hard way Saturday.
“Despite their record, Lander is a good team,” Gilliatt said. “They have good players and they definitely have some strengths. We couldn’t overlook them in any way, so we stuck to our game plan and the guys executed it really well.”
Sessions scored the first goal of the game after a couple of near-misses on net to begin the game.
“I was proud of Rob [Sessions], because he had a couple of attempts where he looked a little rushed, trying to do too much with not the best opportunity,” Gilliatt said. “In his third opportunity, he just kind of slowed it down, created some space for himself, and shot it to the left side of the box, over the keeper. It was a good goal.”
Kaleb Brown found the back of the net for the Panthers a short time later, off an assist by Sessions.
“On the second goal, he [Sessions] dribbled down the field and crossed it into the left-hand side, a real low, hard cross to Kaleb Brown,” Gilliatt said. “It was a clinical finish with the inside of his [Brown’s] right foot. It was a good goal.”
Jesse Trotter scored the final goal for the Panthers in the second half, allowing Gilliatt to make some substitutions in an effort to save on the starters’ legs for the following day.
“The starting 11 were able to give us a good lead, and at the half we were 2-nil,” Gilliatt said. “We wanted to get one more point, just to give us some breathing room, allow us to make more substitutions. The guys did that, which is good.”
Cameron Wentz had another strong game at center mid, just his third game in that position.
“[Wentz] doesn’t have a lot of experience there, but it’s been a natural fit,” Gilliatt said. “I think he prefers to play in a more offensive role, but he has a really good team attitude. He’s willing to go where we need him to go.”
Powell will square off with the Tigers again on Thursday, and Gilliatt said the team will benefit from having Sam Bauer back on the pitch; the sophomore missed the weekend due to an injury sustained in the Worland game April 30.
“It will be good to have Sam [Bauer] back; he’s been a big part of our success,” Gilliatt said. “We’ll get him cleared so he’s good to go. We don’t want him back too much too soon.”
Against Pinedale Saturday, the Wranglers took an early 1-0 lead before Powell was able to get its bearings. Sessions brought the game back to even shortly after, and the game was deadlocked at 1-1 at the break.
The game was back and forth in the second half, with Pinedale scoring on a penalty kick to re-take the lead 2-1. Hawkin Sweeney answered for the Panthers with under 10 minutes left in regulation, tying the game at 2-2 and sending the contest into overtime.
With Sessions’ second goal of the game in the first overtime period — and a great save by Panther keeper Ashton Brewer in the second — Powell completed the comeback with a 2-1 win.
“I think Pinedale is much improved,” Gilliatt said. “They play a hard, physical game. They beat Cody the day before, 3-1, so they came into our game pretty confident.”
Panther junior Ernie Acevedo had a solid game in the midfield, according to Gilliatt, who called him “the defensive standout of the game.”
“Ernie [Acevedo] didn’t get any goals, but he was just so huge at possession and finding the feet of his teammates,” Gilliatt said. “He was just clogging things up for Pinedale, just constantly breaking up counterattacks and breaking up passes. He was just very big defensively that game.”
Gilliatt also had praise for the team as a whole, battling back twice to win the game in overtime.
“I think it was an important lesson to learn, to go down 1-0 to a team that is out-working you and to have the grit and the determination to raise the bar and fight back,” Gilliatt said. “To get out of that hole not once but twice was a great lesson for all these young players, that you can dig yourselves out of a game that you’re losing and get the win, even if it’s ugly.”