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East Hall boys soccer team clinches region title in penalty kicks against Greater Atlanta Christian
Oscar Rosas makes 3 shootout saves to lift Vikings to second region championship in program history
Giezi Barrientos of East Hall (24) heads the ball during the Region 7-3A match between East Hall and Greater Atlanta Christian in Gainesville, on Friday, April 13, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

Oscar Rosas dove to the right, flung his body to the left then hit the ground where he stood, stopping the ball with his hands each time.

His heroics in goal gave his East Hall High soccer teammates enough cushion to beat Greater Atlanta Christian in penalty kicks and earn the program’s second-ever region championship.

Rosas saved the first three shootout attempts he faced as the fourth-ranked Vikings rallied for a thrilling 2-2 (3-1) win to reclaim the Region 7-3A championship Friday, April 13, at East Hall Stadium in Gainesville. 

Freddy Rebollar, Carlos Pulido and Maury Ibarra converted their penalty kicks for East Hall (11-2-2, 5-0 region), but Rosas eased the pressure on them by making the first penalty saves of his high school career.

“Before this season, I hadn’t even faced penalty kicks,” he said while being swarmed by teammates and fans. “Then we got into multiple shootouts this year, but I never got a single one. The one I did get ended up getting called back.

“But I just worked on it and kept pushing myself. We lost the region championship to (Greater Atlanta Christian) last year, and it felt great to get it back from them.”

The Vikings, who also won the region in 2016, had to rally from a two-goal, second-half deficit and hold steady in a pair of five-minute overtime periods to even force penalty kicks.

“I made some mistakes back there early in the match, but I had to keep my head up and keep fighting,” Rosas said. “When we went to PKs, I just thought I’d prefer to settle it here than to keep it going. I think my team was able to feed off my energy.”

After halftime, Ibarra and Sergio Turcios connected on free kicks — both with less than 15 minutes remaining in regulation — to knot the score and heighten the pressure in the de facto region championship match. 

Rosas said his teammates acted as a “cheat code” during penalty kicks, giving him indications of which way his opponent was going to shoot. Those that didn’t assist their goalkeeper held their jerseys over their heads, faced the opposite goal or buried their heads in the grass, unable to watch as the team’s playoff seeding hung in the balance.

East Hall’s coach, on the other hand, had a gut feeling Rosas would get the job done.

“I was really confident in him,” Vikings coach Chris Horton said. “We were giving him some directions, watching the shooter’s hips and movement. We weren’t always right, but for Oscar to block three shots in a shootout is just super huge.”

Horton noted the importance of locking up a No. 1 playoff seed, especially given the opponent his team may face in the second round. East Hall could meet the No. 2 seed from the region that features powerhouses Westminster, Lovett and Pace Academy, the latter of which knocked the Vikings out of the state semifinals last year.

The fifth-ranked Spartans (8-6-1, 4-1) seemed poised to win their second straight region title, especially after a first half in which they maintained the bulk of possession.

Greater Atlanta Christian squandered a series of chances before finally breaking through on junior Jack Jacquet’s 20-yard free kick with 8 minutes, 32 seconds remaining until halftime.

But it was a different game in the second half, during which East Hall largely controlled the flow of play and took 11 shots to the Spartans’ one. Even so, the Vikings fell behind 2-0 in the 48th minute when Greater Atlanta Christian senior Oscar Vanegas worked to the right flank and buried a shot at a harsh angle into the opposite side of the net.

East Hall’s patience finally paid off with about 14 minutes to play as Spartans goalie Hunter Winkler misplayed Ibarra’s long free kick, which rolled off his outstretched hands backward into the net.

The Vikings continued creating chances, and with 4:42 to play, Turcios ignited the crowd with a game-tying free kick from 18 yards out that he scorched into the goal’s top-left corner.

“I kind of had a peace about it and thought we’d be able to come back because we were starting to take more control of the game and get better chances,” Horton said. “I subbed a lot in the second half, and I could see the other team wearing down on us and wilting.”

Overtime largely lacked action, though Ibarra was stopped on a good look inside the box with about 30 seconds left in the second extra period.

Then Rosas trotted out to the net and denied the first three shots he faced, even after East Hall missed its first penalty kick. Ibarra’s rocket into the top-right corner clinched the region title, and Rosas’ work at the front end of the shootout meant he didn’t have to face the fifth kick.

“We had been in the situation before and overcame it,” he said. “This happened to us multiple times this season, so we’re used to the feeling. We just continued putting in the work and never gave up.”

Now the Vikings can finish unbeaten in region play when they host Dawson County at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The East Hall girls, which lost to region champion and third-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian 8-0 on Friday, face Dawson County at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in Gainesville.

Regional events