Patience isn’t one of Richie Castruita’s strong suits. Luckily for West Hall, the junior timed his goal-scoring runs to perfection on two separate occasions to help lead the Spartans (11-1-2) to their second straight appearance in the state semifinals.
Castruita scored a natural hat-trick within the opening 25 minutes as West Hall rolled over Coahulla Creek 4-0 in Saturday’s Class AAA quarterfinal match at Spartan Field in Oakwood. Coto added an insurance strike in the 63rd minute for the Spartans, who are currently riding a nine-game winning streak into Tuesday’s semifinal against Oconee County (15-5).
The Warriors defeated Westminster 1-0 in Saturday's quarterfinal.
“It was pretty frustrating (to be patient),” said Castruita, who reacted well on both of his opening goals. “But when I saw the chance, I took it, and it worked out well for me.”
Castruita played the role of poacher when he was the first to tap home a rebound from Simon Cobian’s half-volley in the 12th minute. And he did well to stay onside three minutes later when Bradley Hodgson launched a long, looping throw-in from the right wing, allowing Castruita to finish with a right-footed shot past Coahulla goalkeeper Missa Fraire (three saves).
The Spartans are now just two wins away from a program-first state title, leading head coach Tim Gale to believe his club is on the right track.
“If I’m a realist, I think there are still some things we can do to be better, but the JV team is working well, and you’ve got to feel good about our program,” Gale said. “There aren’t too many teams who have this kind of success. You can’t complain.”
Neither can the visiting Colts (14-7), who showed little attacking imagination and never got out of first gear after falling behind so quickly. By the time Castruita had finished off his hat trick — after earning his own penalty kick in the 25th minute — Coahulla Creek’s run in the playoffs was quickly fading away.
Following last week’s first-round win over East Jackson, Castruita has scored six goals in his past three games.
“I feel like they weren’t prepared for that,” said Castruita. “Our momentum was a little faster than them. I thought that really helped things out.”
Oscar Bravo, who deputized well on the right wing against Savannah Arts Wednesday night, got another chance to shine alongside regular starter Jon McCain. Bravo hit the post with a hard shot in the 48th minute before Coto conspired to shoot wide of an open goal when Fraire came out to clear.
Coto barely missed again when he did well to flip up a pass from Bravo over his head, then let loose a shot that fell into Fraire’s chest.
Midfielder Ozzy Pintor was Coahulla’s best offensive threat down the right wing, but the center-back pairing of Eduardo Magana and Ronald Portillo did well to neutralize the speedy Colt.
Portillo briefly went out to be treated for a gash on the top of his head, but returned late in the second half. Gale said he expects his defender to receive stitches, but felt he would be good to play in Tuesday’s semifinal.
Coto finally earned his goal when he connected on a deft flick in the 24th minute from Johann Corona, who juked his way past two Coahulla Creek defenders on the right side of the penalty box.
Coto, who had trouble finding the net earlier this season, said he’s happy he’s finally getting his rhythm back at the right time.
“At first, I was kind of struggling,” he said. “But I just thank my teammates for that. If it wasn’t for Johann, that goal would never have came. “I feel like we can take it all, take it to the final. I doubt there’s another team working harder than us in practice.”
West Hall fell 2-0 to Oconee County in last year’s semifinals. Getting revenge on home turf would be a feat that even a patient Castruita can’t wait for.
“I’d like to play Oconee County and beat them,” said the striker, who said he’s hitting his prime. “I’m finally getting it more in practice, we’re doing the best we can. I guess it was my time to shine.”