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Posted: Saturday, May 2nd 2009 at 7:05pm

Soccer: West Hall boys make history, march to semis

By Morgan Lee Editor
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Members of the West Hall boys and Eagles Landing boys soccer teams' leap for a corner kick during the Spartans' 2-0 win in Oakwood on Saturday.
OAKWOOD – Adversity? What adversity?

Neither injury nor Mother Nature could keep the West Hall boys soccer team from making history on Saturday afternoon in Oakwood.

The Spartans overcame the loss of one of their star players and multiple delays from severe weather to knock off Eagles Landing 2-0 in the Class AAA quarterfinals and move into the Final Four for the first time in the program’s history.

Third-ranked West Hall (17-3) needed some time to get going after delays of over an hour-and-a-half, but once the Spartans found their rhythm just before halftime they assumed control, scoring twice in the second half against the sixth-ranked Golden Eagles (13-5-1).

“In the second half we dominated,” West Hall coach Wolfgang Jager said. “We took a while to get going because of the delay, but I knew we could put our stamp on the other team, even without Juan [Arbelaez].”

With Arbelaez missing from midfield due to a knee injury received in their second-round win, the Spartans knew they’d be in for a challenge against an athletic and motivated Eagles Landing squad. Yet the Spartans worked hard to make up for the loss of their senior captain, as Gerson Mejia, Chandler Ligas, Alec Wells and Israel Del Toro scrapped for every loose ball.

“I was confident they would close ranks,” Jager said of his team. “We knew we needed to make more passes and build slower, and my guys are smart. This is a team with very good combination of skill, speed and mental flexibility.”

It was Del Toro’s effort that created the breakthrough, as he won control of a pass in midfield, surged forward and burst into the Eagles Landing penalty area only to be shoved in the back by a defender.

The foul earned the Spartans a penalty kick, which Del Toro buried past Golden Eagles goalkeeper Jeremy Brantley for a 1-0 lead with 37:48 left in the second half.

The Spartans put the game away with 13:55 remaining, when Rudy Vazquez pounced to double the home team’s lead at 2-0. With Eagles Landing unable to clear a West Hall corner kick, Wells gathered the ball and laid it off for Vazquez, who buried an 18-yard shot into the Golden Eagles goalmouth.

The strikes capped a dominant second-half performance from the Spartans, who kept Eagles Landing under constant pressure after halftime, while giving West Hall goalkeeper Jamie King little to do.

“That was the kind of control game we know how to play,” Jager said.

Of course things were out of both teams’ control early, as each sat around with nothing to do after lightning strikes prompted referees to delay the contest just 10 minutes after kickoff. The game, which started at 3 p.m., finally got going again at 4:45 p.m.

After sitting through an hour-and-a-half severe weather delay it was predictable that the game would take time to heat up. And while each team produced scoring chances in the first half, it took almost 15 minutes after the restart before the contest finally began to simmer.

Relying on lone striker Michael Lee in attack, Eagles Landing carved out the first opportunity, when the imposing Lee forced Spartans keeper Jamie King into an awkward save. Running on to a long pass, Lee muscled his way past a defender but couldn’t beat King, as the goalkeeper arrived at the same time, colliding with the Eagles Landing player but clearing the ball.

Despite outsizing West Hall’s defense, the Spartans’ backline, led by Alex Munoz, did a good job of containing Lee, outworking the striker for countless loose balls.

“To control him, I had to have Alex back there; he intercepted so many balls and really worked hard,” Jager said.

With Lee under control, West Hall finally began to find its feet as the first half waned -- and Vazquez was the spark.

With 12 minutes before halftime, the senior striker stole a ball from a defender at the edge of the Golden Eagles penalty area, strode forward and blistered a 16-yard shot just wide of the goal.

Four minutes later, Vazquez acted quickly off an Eagles Landing foul, grabbing the ball and firing a 25-yard free kick at goal before Golden Eagles goalkeeper Jeremy Brantley was ready. Brantley recovered just in time, swiping the ball over his own crossbar.

“Rudy was tremendous,” Jager said. “He works hard and really rattles the defense – and his finishing is huge too.”

Eagles Landing was rescued by the halftime buzzer, but not for long, as West Hall stormed ahead less than three minutes into the second half, setting up a showdown with the winner of the Cairo vs. Oconee County game on Wednesday.

The only down note for West Hall was a red card for Munoz, who was ejected after arguing with officials after a hard foul late in the game. Munoz will now miss the semifinal, though Jager believes his team has the make-up to keep marching.

“Everything is gravy from here on out,” he smiled.
Associated Categories: Sports News, High School Sports

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