Sergio Turcios still remembers what it felt like to leave Mercer University’s Five Star Stadium in Macon last season without a state championship in hand.
One game into this year’s playoffs, he and his East Hall boys soccer teammates are well on their way to making a return trip.
Turcios produced a hat trick and two assists to lead the No. 2 seed Vikings to a convincing 5-1 win against Stone Mountain on Wednesday in Gainesville. After conceding a pair of late goals in a 3-2 loss to Decatur in last season’s Class 3A state championship game, East Hall is eager to get redemption.
“We want another chance at that ring,” Turcios said. “We want to make it back to that field again and take home a championship this time.”
The next hurdle in that quest will be Crisp County, a No. 1 seed and Region 1-3A champion. The Cougars (11-7-1) topped Southeast Bulloch 7-4 on Wednesday and will host the Vikings (15-4) in a second-round game at a time to be determined next Wednesday in Cordele.
East Hall wasted little time assuring it would move on to that contest.
In the fourth minute, Carlos Castrejon ran under a beautiful ball Turcios booted right behind the Pirates’ back line. After a few touches, Castrejon nailed a right-footed strike into the net and past Stone Mountain’s charging goalkeeper to give the Vikings an early lead.
The pair performed a nearly identical play in the 26th minute, but with Turcios on the receiving end of a crisp pass. The sophomore raced down the left flank before burying his first of three goals.
“Our wings were making some great passes for Sergio,” East Hall coach Chris Horton said. “Moving the ball around always helps, and he was just able to be productive off of that.”
Four minutes later, Turcios took advantage of another great pass that gave him ample space about 10 feet in front of the net. After the third-seeded Pirates’ goalie saved the initial shot with his foot, Turcios wrangled the rebound and found the net with his follow-up to put the Vikings ahead 3-0 at halftime.
“I thought the goalie was going to throw himself on the ground right there, but I was able to get it back and finish,” Turcios said with a grin. “My teammates did a great job of feeding me the ball. When they play well, I have to do the same.”
He made another beautiful feed of his own in the 63rd minute.
After Maury Ibarra delivered the ball to him with a clever pass around a defender, Turcios dribbled all the way from midfield before serving up a cross inside the 18-yard box that teammate Brandon Callahan turned into a goal.
Turcios completed his hat trick by capitalizing on a three-on-one situation in the 73rd minute with a simple shot from right of the net. Eduardo Mata also tallied an assist for East Hall, while Oscar Roses recorded five saves.
Stone Mountain (9-5-1) scored in the final minutes on Juan Rodriguez’s arcing shot from about 25 yards out that dropped into the net over the head of the Vikings’ backup goalie.
“We had a few errors here and there, but we’ll improve on those things during the next few practices,” Turcios said. “We still know we got off to a good start in the playoffs.”
He and his coach agreed on that, and East Hall hopes Wednesday’s result will propel them back to the state championship game.
“We played well, and everybody played. Getting that experience is good, especially early in the playoffs,” Horton said. “We missed some shots, but the important thing was that we put enough of them in the goal.”