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Huge win for Tigers

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

Troup High’s Diego Merida knew what was on the line, but he didn’t let the pressure of the moment faze him.

In the closing moments of Wednesday’s soccer showdown against Hardaway at Callaway Stadium, the game was tied

at 1-1 when Merida was fouled, and Troup was awarded a penalty kick.

Troup head coach Eddie Lawson decided Merida was the right person to take that kick, and that decision paid major dividends.

Merida, a freshman whose twin brother Luis Merida is also a standout on the team, banged the ball into the right side of the net to successfully convert the penalty kick, and Troup had the lead.

Troup’s defense stood tall the rest of the way to preserve the 2-1 victory and move the team a step closer to securing a spot in the state playoffs.

If Troup wins at Kendrick on Monday, it will finish third in Region 2-AAAA and will be on the road for the first round of the state playoffs.

If Troup had lost to Hardaway, it would have been eliminated from playoff contention.

That was on the mind of Diego Merida as he lined up to take the penalty kick, but he remained poised and came through for his team.

“There’s a lot of pressure,” Merida said. “If we lost this game, we can’t make the playoffs, so it’s like the whole season is on my hands. I just had to make it.”

Merida has taken countless penalty kicks over the years, and he relied on his training.

“I’ve been doing this since I was little, and I just put it in the corner,” Merida said.

Earlier in the second half, three minutes after Hardaway scored to take a 1-0 lead, Troup evened things up on a Bernny Velasquez goal from about 30 yards away.

The Tigers continued to force the issue and they had a handful of solid scoring chances, but they were unable to produce the go-ahead goal.

Banneker Johnson, Chris Moore, and Luis Merida each had shots on goal that just missed finding the target.

With 1:57 left in the game, Diego Merida was controlling the ball near the goal when he was taken down by a Hardaway player, and he nailed the penalty kick.

It was a hard-fought game between two evenly matched teams, and it was Troup getting the upper-hand.

“That’s the kind of game you’d expect in a playoff atmosphere, and that’s what we got,” Lawson said. “They played well, and I told them good luck. They’re in the playoffs. If we lose, we’re out. Our playoffs started tonight. That’s how we looked at it.”

It’s been a few years since Troup made it to the state playoffs, and Diego Merida believes “the determination” of the team has made a difference this season.

“We don’t give up,” Merida said.

“We’re down, but we come back and win, and hopefully we can win on Monday so we can hold the third seed.”