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Posted: Wednesday, May 5th 2010 at 10:30am

Soccer: GHS offense finds killer touch in overtime thriller

By Morgan Lee Editor
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Gainesville's Douglass Mejia looks to win a header against Riverwood's Wally Fofana in Tuesday's second-round playoff win for the Red Elephants at City Park in Gainesville.
GAINESVILLE -- Time was running out, the pressure was mounting and Irving Salgado’s mouth throbbed with pain. But for one moment, the Gainesville High senior put all those thoughts out of his mind and came up with the biggest goal of his prep career.

With 41 seconds left in the first overtime period, Salgado -- playing with a broken tooth -- slammed home an expertly-placed cross from teammate Monish Lahiry to help spark a 3-1 playoff win over Riverwood on Tuesday night at City Park in Gainesville.

“Oh man, that ball looked so small when I first saw it,” said Salgado, wiggling the front tooth that lost a sizable chunk thanks to a challenge from a Riverwood defender during the second half. “But I saw the back of the goal; I saw the frame. And I knew couldn’t miss this time.”

The third-ranked Red Elephants (16-0) agonized over a half-dozen near misses during regulation -- including a similar set-up for Salgado with 10 minutes left in the second half -- and saw Riverwood come close to stealing the second-round match-up.

In fact, the 10th-ranked Raiders (14-5-1) had a chance to seal the upset with just 2:30 left in regulation, only to watch Gainesville goalkeeper Marco Monreal stuff a penalty kick attempt from Arturo Cruz.

“Marco had an amazing game,” Lahiry said of Monreal. “For any goalie to come up with a save like that, in this atmosphere, is incredible.”

The save swung momentum completely in the Red Elephants’ favor, and, despite so many near-misses in regulation, Gainesville stormed through the two five-minute overtimes. The Red Elephants finally broke through thanks to Lahiry and Salgado before Merly Velasquez put the contest out of reach on a strike with three minutes left in the second overtime.

The victory sends Gainesville into the Class AAA quarterfinals, where it will play host to eighth-ranked Perry, which defeated Richmond Hill 3-1, on Friday at City Park.

“We just calmed down and played our game in overtime,” Lahiry said. “(Riverwood) was trying to suck us into playing their style, and we were getting a little frantic in the second half. But we calmed down and played our style in overtime.”

Lahiry also played a key role in getting the Red Elephants into the extra frame, scoring on a penalty kick with 17:02 left in the second half after Riverwood took a 1-0 lead with 25 minutes to play.

Gabriel Osorio earned the penalty for Gainesville, turning a Raiders defender and bursting into the Riverwood penalty area only to be chopped down from behind. The foul set up Lahiry, who stepped to the spot and sent Raiders goalkeeper Daniel Yellin the wrong way with a shot into the left corner of the net.

The equalizing goal couldn’t spark the Red Elephants offense, however, and the Red Elephants missed several more chances to seal the contest -- as did the Raiders, who kept Gainesville’s defense under constant pressure thanks to the speed and skill of Cruz and strike partner Wally Fofana.

The rangy Fofana proved especially dangerous on counter-attacks, using his speed to beat defenders to long passes, and it was his work that earned the penalty with just 2:30 left in regulation, getting felled in front of the Red Elephants goal. Yet Monreal proved up to the task, keeping Cruz -- who scored the game’s first goal off a rebound -- from a crucial strike.

“With two-and-a-half minutes left, that’s game over if it goes in,” Lahiry said of the penalty.

Gainesville looked like it might put the game out of reach in the first half, pressing forward and forcing two saves from Yellin on Salgado shots and striking the post on a blast from Aidan Riesing all within the first 15 minutes. But the Red Elephants couldn’t find the killer touch and nearly paid the price when Fofana broke through for a one-on-one with Monreal with 14 minutes left in the half. The keeper stood firm, however, and denied Fofana with a diving stop.

Minutes later Gainesville looked set to break through again when Salgado beat Yellin to a loose ball in the Raiders penalty area and slotted a pass to Velasquez, but the midfielder’s close-range shot in traffic was cleared off the line by a Riverwood defender, leaving the first half scoreless.

“That first half was frustrating, seeing a ball cleared off the line, hitting a post... It seemed like the closer we got to the goal the harder it was to score,” Lahiry said. “But we’ve been behind in close games before this season, and we were still confident we’d win -- even after we fell behind.”

Lahiry, who has played in defense most of the season for the Red Elephants, pushed into attack after Gainesville fell behind, and his skill proved too much for Riverwood in key moments -- including the decisive goal, as he spun past a defender near the endline and tore into the Raiders penalty area before sliding a pass to an unmarked Salgado at the back post.

“I knew he wouldn’t miss,” Lahiry said.

“I was so happy after that goal I forgot about the pain,” Salgado said. “I was smiling. And it hurts to smile right now.”

-- NOTES: Gainesville coach Rick Howard was ejected from the game with just over a minute remaining in regulation for arguing with referees and will miss the remainder of the Red Elephants' playoff run. ... This will be Gainesville’s first trip to the state quarterfinals since 2005. ... Russ Puckett set up the final goal for the Red Elephants. The senior striker, who became a solo target man after Gainesville took a 2-1 lead, controlled a long pass from midfield, turned and found Velasquez charging up the right flank. Velasquez gathered the pass, rounded the goalkeeper and scored into an empty net. ... The Red Elephants are the only team remaining from Region 7-AAA, as Lambert was defeated 4-2 by No. 1 St. Pius on Tuesday. ... Second-ranked Oconee County was also upset by fifth-ranked Carrollton in overtime on Tuesday. Carrollton edged Johnson 2-1 last week in the first round.
Associated Categories: Sports News, High School Sports

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