After an undefeated district title and a deep playoff run last year, the Cleburne Yellow Jackets entered this season with high expectations and an eye towards surpassing their playoff accomplishments from a year ago. After stumbling through the second half of district play this year, the Jackets enter the postseason as the No. 4 seed from District 8-5A and will face Fort Worth North Side in the Class 5A bidistrict playoffs.
The Jackets and Steers are scheduled to play the second of a doubleheader at 8:30 p.m. Friday at North Crowley High School.
Cleburne sat in first place in District 8-5A after the first round of league play concluded with a 6-0-1 record, but the Jackets went 2-3-2 in the second round. Most of those struggles were due to numerous injuries — including to senior Ronald Cabello, the team’s leading goal scorer — and a changing lineup and rotation due to those injuries.
But Cleburne ended the regular season on a high note with a dominant 5-0 victory over Aledo on Friday. Cleburne Coach Will Walker said that game was a big confidence boost heading into the playoffs.
“We like the way we played and finished against Aledo in our last game,” Walker said. “Hopefully that gives us a little more confidence going into our game on Friday. We feel like we broke out of our scoring slump a bit, but we know it will be tougher against North Side.”
Walker said the Jackets’ injury situation, particularly concerning Cabello, is still in the air as of Wednesday.
“Having a week to prepare since our last district game does give Ronald Cabello a chance to get healthy, but he isn’t progressing as quickly as we’d like,” Walker said. “I’m not sure what percentage healthy he’ll be come Friday.”
With or without Cabello, the Jackets will face a challenge against North Side, which Walker said was one of the best teams in the region. Cleburne and North Side have already squared off this season, with the Steers recording a 3-0 win at the Azle Tournament in the first weekend of the season.
“We watched that game Tuesday morning and recognized the mistakes that led to their goals,” Walker said. “We believe we are playing better at this point in the season since we were looking at different formations and lineups during that tournament.
“North Side has very good forwards so they are difficult to shut out up top. Overall, they are a very hard-working group that will not give you a lot of time and space with the ball. When necessary they can play back to their defenders, who do a nice job of handling the ball and finding their mids and forwards making runs into the offensive end. We will have to put pressure on them with our wings so they don’t have time to find their targets. In the back, we’ll have to have good communication so we don’t let their attackers make runs unmarked.”
While it can be considered cliché or coach’s speak for a gameplan to include “limited mistakes,” that is one of the biggest keys for success against the Steers, Walker said.
“The key will be if we can possess the ball and limit turnovers and mistakes,” he said. “North Side is the type of team that will capitalize on those mistakes if we have breakdowns and don’t do our job. If both teams play their best it should be a very close, entertaining game.”
The Jackets are led by Mario Juarez, Aaron Huerta, Saul Ruiz, Zach Long, Zane Horton, Aaron Webb, Will Hughes, Chris Flores and Armando Villegas.
The winner advances to the area round of Class 5A playoffs and will face the winner of Wichita Falls and Fort Worth Eastern Hills.