CHATSWORTH — Through 80 minutes, neither North Hall nor North Murray could generate much in the way of offense. By the time the extra 10 minutes of overtime were done, North Hall had done just enough.
Junior Avalos scored on a backside header past North Murray keeper Manuel Gonzalez in the first overtime period on Thursday, and the Trojans’ patient passing offensive strategy paid off for a 1-0 win over the Mountaineers in the first round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
North Hall, the No. 4 seed from powerful Region 7-AAA and the No. 5 team in the state according to the eurosportscoreboard.com rankings, advances to the second round to face either North Oconee or Blessed Trinity on the road next week.
The Trojans (12-4-1) used crisp passing throughout the game to keep North Murray (14-3) from being able to generate any offense off of mistakes. Using through full dimension’s of North Murray’s regulation-size turf field, North Hall was able to control much of the flow of action. And even if the Trojans weren’t able to generate many offensive looks because of North Murray packing its defense, controlling the action kept the Mountaineers off the scoreboard as well.
“We knew they would settle on defense and err on the side of defense, and we knew we had to break them down,” North Hall coach Jonathan Lillie said. “I felt like with the width of the field that they have here, we could possess the ball on the outer edges and it wouldn’t be too risky. We finally got through once, and one is all you need.”
The Trojans finally scored when Enrique Castrejon dribbled deep down the left wing, and his cross over Gonzalez found Avalos on the backside. Later in the final two minutes of the overtime, Avalos was able to stop the same play by North Murray and clear the ball away.
It was apparent that scoring would be at a premium midway through the second half when the two teams had combined for just four shots on goal. Neither Gonzalaez nor North Hall keeper Juan Jimenez were put under severe pressure, but each had saves down the stretch through the end of regulation that kept the game scoreless.
Lillie said the slow start on offense was a combination of North Murray’s gameplan and playoff jitters.
“The first half, it was just nerves. We didn’t play how I know we can play,” he said. “It is hard to come off of a two-hour bus ride and not have some kind of an effect. But the guys really listened to what we had to say at the half and they executed. We weren’t being risky enough and we were being too conservative. We didn’t play with a lot of pace and were over-thinking. The second half, they got over that.”
North Murray coach Matt Chambers said both teams executed their game plans well but said North Hall played the game more consistently.
“All credit to them, North Hall played a great game,” Chambers said. “We had our moments of attack and teamwork, but then we had moments when we weren’t in the right position. It wasn’t consistent all the way through, and that is what killed us.”
North Hall finished with seven shots on goal, while North Murray had just three.
North Murray, the winner of three straight region titles, ends its season with the school’s first-ever loss in the first round.