The Brownsville Porter Cowboys cruised through the first three rounds of the Class 5A playoffs, outscoring opponents 14-2 to earn their first trip to the regional semifinal round in five years.
Coach Jose Espitia believes this group of Cowboys has the best team chemistry, mindset and depth of any team in the past few years. And for as well as they’ve been playing, Espitia thinks the best is yet to come.
The Cowboys, ranked No. 8 in the state, will battle with No. 2 Dripping Springs at 8 p.m. today at Cabaniss Athletic Complex in Corpus Christi. They know it won’t be an easy game, but they’re confident they have what it takes to keep the run going.
“We’re excited for it, but we don’t feel that we’re satisfied,” Espitia said. “We know we have the soccer and we have the skills to give them a good game, a good fight. We know it’s going to be a very tough game, but we’re excited about it. We’re not going out there as the underdog or anything.
“Porter has created its own culture of winning,” he added. “As we keep advancing, we keep looking better and better, so hopefully we continue with that and the kids come out strong for this semifinal game. I feel the team hasn’t peaked, and that’s really good. I feel we still have a lot to improve, and I hope we continue doing so and keep moving on.”
That culture of winning is what drives this Porter team, which boasts a plethora of players with three and four years of varsity experience. Though the team is led by standouts such as Brandon Montes, Julian Gallegos and Jose Mateos, the list of Cowboys who contribute to the success is long.
“We have a lot of depth, and that’s definitely good when it comes to the playoffs and competing at this level,” Espitia said. “The competition in practice has been very, very tight. At the end of the day, everyone gets better. Something we haven’t had in the past, and it’s been a good problem that we’ve had this year, is trying to come up with who are going to be our starters for each game.”
Porter has nine four-year lettermen, and Montes headlines the group. Montes said the Cowboys “are a big family” and the way they push and encourage each other creates a good team chemistry. As a seasoned veteran, Montes has been keeping the younger guys focused through this playoff run.
“We’re feeling a little nervous because it’s a big game, but we’re confident that we’re a strong-bonded team and we can be really good if we put our mind and dedication to it,” Montes said. “It’s been a really long time since we’ve been in the semifinals, and we’re putting our whole heart into it. I want to be a good leader to (the underclassmen). I know we have the talent and the work ethic to make this team go even further.”
Gallegos recorded a hat trick in Porter’s 7-1 regional quarterfinal win Friday, and he said he believes he can keep his scoring streak going despite Dripping Springs’ solid defense.
Gallegos credited the team’s chemistry and abundance of “amazing players” for Porter’s strong play, particularly on offense.
“We’ve been scoring a lot of goals. Something good about the offense is we don’t depend on one player. All the forward and midfielders have been scoring goals,” Gallegos said.
“We’ve been watching videos, and they have a very strong defense. They’re big, but we’re not going to carry them so that doesn’t matter.”
Freshmen Ricardo Leal and Alessandro Lara are two players Espitia said have been good surprises this season. Senior Jose Machuca leads the defense, and goalkeeper Isaac Acevedo anchors it with strong play in goal.
A player that Espitia said has been crucial in creating scoring opportunities is senior Erick Esparza. The left wing said the Cowboys are aiming to carry this Sweet 16 appearance as far as the last one, when Porter won the state championship in 2016.
“You can say every five years, Porter goes to state, and this is the fifth year. So hopefully we get to state and we win it,” Esparza said. “We have good possession of the ball and we play as a team. We’re very vertical, so we get to the goal really quick. That’s going to help us move on. We start with a lot of energy, and we give it our all.”
Esparza and Montes said Porter’s high-energy playing style is fueled by the rowdy fans that bang drums and sing cheers at every game. With their “porra” behind them, the Cowboys are ready to take on anything.
“They make us work even harder towards our objective, and it motivates you in the game when they’re cheering for you. It makes me really happy that we have that support because other schools don’t really have that,” Montes said.