A big break in the season finally didn’t make the College Park Cavaliers when it came to clinching a playoff berth last Friday night at Conroe.
Surviving a fiercely competitive District 13-6A came to a head as two points separated four teams playing for three playoff spots.
College Park (14-6-2, 10-4-2) had the odds against them with the task of needing a win and three points (one point from the tie would not have been enough) to a team like the Tigers, which it had home-field advantage and had already defeated the Cavaliers 4-3 earlier in the year.
Lasting moments of former shortcomings died down some during the postgame celebration of a 2-1 victory at Buddy Moorhead Stadium and the three points needed to clinch a playoff berth and third place. But that was largely due to the buzz still surrounding how close things are to going home now or advancing to the postseason.
A month ago, the Cavaliers suffered back-to-back losses as the district’s first round advanced to the second round.
“Every game was something different,” said College Park senior forward Alessio De Pippo, who scored what became the gamewinner against Conroe on Friday night. “When we lost those straight games – Conroe and Grand Oaks (February 13 and 16) – we had hit rock bottom. The boys picked it up and now here we are, baby. Playoffs!”
College Park second-year head coach Mike Jaskowiak took great pride in how his team held up.
After losing to Grand Oaks, the Cavaliers went 6-1 the rest of the way, but were still in the balance with other playoff-destined teams like the Grizzlies, Caney Creek and Conroe, who with the loss combined with Caney Creek in New Caney on Friday night, was the last team out of a chair when the music stopped.
“We’ve had three defeats this year – after leading in the second half – in a very short space of time,” Jaskowiak said on Friday evening. “Those could have brought the team down. He really could have.”
College Park did what it needed to against teams below them in the standings to stay in contention. He went 0-2 against district champions The Woodlands and drew against Caney Creek and Oak Ridge in the first round. The Cavaliers, however, beat those two teams the second time around.
“Those could have been things that really took the team and put it on the mat,” Jaskowiak said. “And we were a little down. We were. We came in and that Caney Creek win was really important to us.
In the regular season, College Park outscored their opponents 63-28. Sophomore Cameron Rains took to the net. The defense – with champions like Jason Pirir, Chris Case, Julio De Los Reyes and Isaac Guillory among those who have stopped opponents – have had four games with one or fewer goals conceded along the stretch.
“We just persevered,” Jaskowiak said. “We had some tough wins and every game was close. You saw the ranking in our district and it was just tight. To be two points (aside), second to fifth (place) in the last game is just insane.
College Park shifts its focus to Friday night and Aldine, the No. 2 of District 14-6A. The bi-district playoff has a bit of home field advantage as the Cavaliers cross I-45 to host the 7:30 p.m. game at the Conroe ISD crown jewel of athletic facilities, Woodforest Bank Stadium.
“To get through all of that and be able to move forward and keep playing… that’s the most important thing,” Jaskowiak said. “We just want to keep playing.”
No current member within the program has ever won a playoff game and the hope is to do just that. The seniors were eighth graders when then-head coach John Owens and the 2019 Cavaliers marched to the state final four for the first time in program history.
The 2020 squad was ready to follow before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season prematurely. After that season, Owens – the only head coach in program history up to that point – left to pursue other career opportunities. The Cavaliers lost 3-1 to MacArhur to end a chaotic 2021 season and the Generals eliminated them again in 2022, 3-2, to end Jaskowiak’s first season at the helm.
Last time College Park played Aldine? That would be 2019 in the Region II-6A league. A memorable night for the Cavaliers.
“If we do what we can do, I think we can give anyone a game,” Jaskowiak said of the upcoming matchup with the Mustangs. “We can give a game to anyone in the state.”