Bobby Huertas doesn't mind playing defense. But the truth is even when he doesn't have the ball, the Freedom forward is thinking about what he plans to do with it once he does.
"I always think ahead," Huertas said.
That attacking mentality has paid off. Entering tonight's Class 5A region semifinal at Wharton, Huertas, a four-year starter, has scored a county-best 36 times. For good measure, he also leads the Patriots (21-5) with 13 assists.
"He knows how to create space, and then he finishes," Freedom coach Dennis Derflinger said. "When he gets the ball in space, there's a high probability he'll score because he's going to attack the goal."
Huertas says he thinks about attacking the opposition's defense "98 percent of the time." Then, the 5-foot-6 senior, who began playing soccer 13 years ago and recently committed to Saint Leo, uses his above-average speed and uncanny aggressiveness to more than compensate for his lack of stature.
"He's tough and he plays hard all the time," Derflinger said. "And his speed is tough to defend."
Marking Huertas is a full-time job. In between the sidelines, he rarely stops moving. Because of that, if an opponent lets his guard down for even a second, Huertas has the ability to make him pay.
"That's what happened against Land O'Lakes," Derflinger said.
Against the nationally ranked Gators last week, Huertas, who also led Freedom in scoring as a junior, raced toward a seemingly inconsequential punt in the second half. But after the ball was misplayed by the opposing keeper, Huertas caught up to it and fired the ball into the empty net to score the game's only goal.
"The one time he put pressure on them, he hurt them," Derflinger said.
Boys soccer region semifinals
All games tonight at 7.
Class 6A: Alonso (22-6-4) at Gaither (20-2-3)
The dish: The teams have played twice, with each winning once. Gaither defeated Alonso 3-2 to win the district title. Gaither midfielder Darnell King leads the Cowboys in goals (26) and assists (16). Forwards Julio Perez (29 goals) and Simon Gomez (20 goals) pace Alonso.
Class 5A: Freedom (21-5) at Wharton (14-5-2)
The dish: The season series is tied at one. Wharton won the most recent meeting, 2-1 on penalty kicks in the district final. Freedom has won eight of its past nine. One of its victims was nationally ranked Land O'Lakes. Wharton, once the fourth seed in District 8, owns a six-game win streak.
Class 5A: Jesuit (25-2) at East Lake (15-2-2)
The dish: Jesuit has won 13 straight games and 25 of its past 26. As usual, the Tigers are particularly strong on defense. Jesuit last allowed a goal Jan. 10, which was seven games ago. Offensively, the Tigers have scored 105 goals, 22 of which were produced by forward Ali Van Gurp.
Class 3A: Fort Myers Bishop Verot (21-4-1) at Berkeley Prep (12-6-7)
The dish: In its past three games, Berkeley has outscored opponents 19-1. In last week's 8-0 win over Fort Myers Dunbar, the Bucs topped their previous season best for goals by two. T.J. Roehn (18 goals), James Post (10 goals) and Eri Jacobs (nine goals, 11 assists) lead Berkeley's offense.
Class 2A: Calvary Christian (16-5-2) at Tampa Prep (23-2-2)
The dish: Tampa Prep won two previous meetings, 7-0 and 7-2. The Terrapins are riding a six-game win streak. During that span, they've allowed only three goals. Two were to Calvary Christian. Tampa Prep sophomore forward Wes Sever ranks fourth in the state with 35 goals according to maxpreps.com.
Keith Niebuhr, Times staff writer