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Gainesville boys soccer advances to quarterfinals with 4-0 win
Red Elephants will host Columbus on Friday
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Gainesville High’s Charlie Bryant, center, celebrates with teammates after scoring the Red Elephants’ first goal during the first half of a second round state playoff match at City Park Stadium Tuesday evening.

Gainesville coach Rick Howard said he wanted his team to take control of the game as soon as possible Tuesday night.

It didn’t take long.

Less than two minutes into the Round 2 state playoff game against Howard at City Park Stadium, Gainesville junior Douglas Mejia found senior Charlie Bryant running free deep in the box and fired a pass that the tall midfielder buried in the net.

“I saw the space, made eye contact with Douglas, ran to the space and we connected,” Bryant said.

It was the first of four goals for the No. 4-ranked Red Elephants on their way to a 4-0 win over the No.9-ranked Huskies (15-3) to advance to the third round.

Gainesville (17-1-1) will host Columbus on Friday at City Park Stadium in the quarterfinals.

Howard coach Vegas McCain likes their chances, especially at the wide City Park field, which he said takes advantage of the Red Elephants’ possession-style play.

“If they beat Columbus and get to play at home, I think they’ll win the whole thing,” he said. “There’s no shame in losing to a team like this.

“They’re a good, solid team.”

And when they start the game as up-tempo as they did Tuesday night, the Red Elephants are able to dictate how the game will be played.

“I think it was important to get up there and seize the game from the opening kickoff,” Howard said. “The big thing was just establishing the tempo.”

Gainesville didn’t slow down much the entire game, and especially in the first half, scoring twice more to take a 3-0 lead into halftime.

Red Elephants senior Eduardo Espinoza scored the second goal of the day 13 minutes before the half on a rebound off of a shot by senior Aidan Reising. Reising would score a goal of his own six minutes later on a pass from senior Merly Velasquez.

In the second half it was also a chippy, physical game, with a yellow card being handed out on each side as well as a red card to a Howard player.

Gainesville substituted for many of their starters after halftime, and the backups kept control of the game.

Late in the second half Red Elephants sophomore midfielder Gage Turner came off the bench and lofted a long shot from outside the box over the head of the keeper with less than 12 minutes left for the games’ final goal.

As good as the offense was, the defense was quite possibly even more dominant, holding Howard without a single shot on goal. Huskies senior forward Kioki Hutchings, who scored 31 goals this season, was frustrated all night by the defense and goalkeeper Edgar Espinoza, who sprinted out of the box to grab dangerous through balls before Hutchings was able to reach them on a few occasions.

It’s nothing new for Gainesville, which allowed just five goals all season. Even when a change was made at goal, along with most other positions, late in the game, the hosts kept up the attack.

“They’re one of the best teams I’ve seen in regards to their first touch, their passing and their depth,” Vegas said. “Bottom line: my players are not as skilled as theirs.”

Howard, though, is not resting on his team’s laurels.

“This is a good side, well prepared, but we have to play better,” Howard said. “But the good thing is we have the opportunity to play better.”

And, as Bryant stressed, they have to play as a team. He added that the team philosophy for the playoffs is ubuntu, Swahili for togetherness.

“Only by playing as one can we get our goal of a state championship,” he said. “I think we showed that, we played really well tonight.”

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