Palestine, Madisonville on collision course

The Palestine Wildcats and Madisonville Mustangs play one another in district competition in nearly every sport.

That doesn’t include football, where the Wildcats are a Division I team and the Mustangs reside in Division II.

It also doesn’t currently count soccer, where the teams are trying to remedy their lack of scheduled district play by meeting for a state championship. Both would need to win Wednesday state semifinal matches to earn a rematch of Palestine’s 2-0 non-district win over Madisonville on January 30.

That was Madisonville’s only loss this season. Palestine still has not lost.

At Birkelbach Field at Georgetown ISD Stadium Wednesday, Madisonville (25-1-2) plays San Elizario (20-5-0) at 4 p.m. Then, it’s Palestine (34-0-0) against Progreso (23-7-2) in the other Class 4A semifinal, set for 6:30.

For soccer, Palestine and Madisonville not only were sent to different districts in the last UIL realignment. They were not even paired in the same region. No problem. The Wildcats won Region II while the Mustangs claimed their first-ever Region III crown.

After consecutive ties against Cleveland and Bryan put the Mustangs at 2-0-2, that loss to the Wildcats is the only other negative on the schedule. The last three playoff games have been close, but none more so than the regional semifinal win over Huffman-Hargrave. The Mustangs faced elimination before coming though to win 6-5 in the eighth round of penalty kicks.

The Wildcats, who won the 2016 Class 4A state championship, are a long-established East Texas power.

Madisonville is just barely established. Craving a soccer program, the school waited until it made sense, which was not until after the Mustangs put artificial turf on their field. But Madisonville soccer hit the ground running for Coach Baltazar Reyes

The Mustangs made their playoff debut in 2016, but won their first two matches, before falling to Houston Wheatley, 4-3 in the regional quarterfinal. That’s the same round where Palestine lost its chance to defend its state championship, losing 4-2 to Kilgore.

The Wildcats haven’t lost since. Only two teams, Terrell and Kilgore, have come within a goal of tying Palestine. Both lost, 1-0.

The Wildcats’ 2016 state championship team was 30-1-2, winning both games at state in shootouts for John Absalom. Palestine’s initial state tournament appearance was in 2007.

Palestine is not the only former champion at state. Region I winner San Elizario, who will face Madisonville, won the 4A title in 2015.

For now, it’s a one-shot deal for Madisonville and Palestine to meet this way. Over the next two years, they’ll be district opponents in 18-4A, meaning only one can make a state run.

But how often does the state tournament determine next year’s district favorite?

San Elizario 3, Madisonville 0

Palestine 2, Progresso 1

•••

With the regular season of the high school softball season winding down, some schools have clearly positioned themselves as playoff contenders.

College Station might have been in that position a year ago but the Lady Cougars were probably took young to realize it. The talent was there, but some key players on the team were just barely into high school. Compared to other sports at the school, CSHS softball team wasn’t brimming with confidence from early playoff success.

But success in any sport helps set up more of the same and College Station has always taken pride in the school sharing its accomplishments. If you know someone who played on a state championship football team, for instance, a run at state in softball doesn’t seem far-fetched. Plus, Brandy Gibson’s team has strengthened itself after last season’s confidence-building run. The Lady Cougars are significantly better and should carry that self-assurance into postseason.

Bryan’s pretty good too. Don’t get caught up in the Lady Vikings’ 12 losses on the season, two of which came during district play to College Station.

The Lady Vikings always play a high-caliber non-district schedule and dodged the early weather problems this year better than almost anyone. They have played more games than any other team in Region III, Class 5A

Normangee has swept unbeaten though 26-2A and has now posted a 23-2 season record. The Lady Panthers are ranked second statewide by the Texas Girls Coaches Association, but No. 1 Thorndale is just a district away (27-2A). Thorndale won two games over Normangee at area last year, eliminating the Lady Panthers early. The teams can’t meet that early this season, but Region IV is always a minefield in Class 2A.

Fairfield is having quite a run in 18-4A and has won district championships in every sport this school year, but the Lady Eagles don’t have a sure thing even at bi-district. 17-4A is so tradition-rich that it produces numerous stellar teams annually, and 18-4A has had its struggles at that round. Still, Fairfield has dominated its district.

If there’s anything to pressure building a champion on the diamond (spoiler: there is), then Caldwell should benefit from going against La Grange and Giddings in 20-4A. Caldwell ended a 74-game district winning streak by La Grange with an 11-7 win over the Lady Leps on April 7.

The bi-district playoffs begin next week.