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Gainesville boys soccer falls to Clarke Central 2-0 in region title game
Gladiators score twice in second half to hold off second-ranked Red Elephants
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Gainesville defenders Jamie Mattick (2) and Arlis Nunez double team Clarke Central's Matt Ward Tuesday night at City Park. - photo by Nat Gurley | The Times

In a 12-minute span, the Gainesville boys soccer team’s region title hopes were buried in the back of the net.
Unfortunately for the Red Elephants, the net was their own.

Clarke Central scored a pair of second half goals, and the Gladiators defeated Gainesville 2-0 in the de facto Region 8-AAAAA championship game Tuesday at City Park Stadium.

Italo Pastor scored on a penalty kick to break a scoreless tie in the 56th minute, followed by Gabe Arcos’ goal on a cross from Alex Reyes in the 68th minute to secure the win and fourth-ranked Clarke Central’s second straight region title.

For the second straight year, Gainesville (14-2-1, 7-1) finishes runner-up in the region behind the Gladiators (16-1, 8-0).

“It’s just one of those things,” said Red Elephants assistant coach Dave Head, who assumed lead sideline duties after head coach Rick Howard received a pair of yellow cards and was ejected from the game in the 45th minute.

“We had some offense going, but we weren’t able to finish. We had some great opportunities to score, but they got the counter on us and got that second goal.”

Gainesville, ranked second in Class AAAAA, returns to City Park Stadium for first-round play Tuesday against the No. 3 seed from Region 6-AAAAA.

The Red Elephants will look to return to typical form by then, an identity that won them 11 straight games while allowing just one goal over an eight-game span.

“We can get the guys working and get our mind ready, and get ready to go back on another run,” Head said. “I’d rather lose now than lose in the playoffs.”

Despite being held scoreless for just the second time this season, Gainesville didn’t go without quality scoring opportunities.

The Red Elephants outshot Clarke Central and played the majority of a scoreless first half on the Gladiators’ end of the field, but the ball constantly found a way to evade the net.

With Gainesville’s head coach absent from the sideline and Clarke Central providing defensive pressure early in the second half, the Gladiators confirmed the momentum shift when Pastor beat Red Elephants goalkeeper Gage Turner on the penalty kick for the 1-0 lead.

“The PK got us energized – everyone was looking forward at that point,” Clarke Central coach Chris Aiken said. “It also forced Gainesville to change up their game plan, which enabled us to have more opportunities up top.”

The foul came across as ambiguous on the Red Elephants’ sideline, but Head wasn’t about to confirm the PK as the difference-maker in the game’s outcome.

“It does not matter,” Head said. “What matters is that they got the call. Even with that PK and that other goal, we had opportunities to score, but we couldn’t finish it. We had some good attacks on there, but it just didn’t happen.”

Reyes set up the second goal with a cross from the left corner to Arcos, who targeted a shot past Turner from the center of the box.

Gainesville simply didn’t have an answer thereafter.

“Once you get the second goal, it’s all about changing your formation more defensively,” Aiken said. “Just preserving the win. Making sure that when you have the ball, you’re in control with it, nothing too fancy.”

That meant containing Red Elephants center midfielder and primary scoring threat Ricardo Gomez, who was marked by multiple defenders throughout the game.

The Gainesville captain placed a few promising corner kicks into the box, but was otherwise quiet on the night.

“We came into the game knowing Ricardo Gomez was a big threat,” Aiken said. “Our game plan was to try to slow down Ricardo Gomez, knowing that if you can slow down their best player the rest of the team might not play as well.”

GAINESVILLE GIRLS 6, CLARKE CENTRAL 0: Breana Fair scored two goals with an assist, and the Lady Red Elephants locked up the No. 2 seed in Region 8-AAAAA with Tuesday’s win.

Rachel Dillard, Nayeli Espinoza, Alden Turner and Jazmin Penado also provided goals for Gainesville (12-3, 7-1), which faces the No. 3 seed from Region 6-AAAAA next Wednesday at City Park Stadium.

The Lady Red Elephants entered the night still in contention for the region title, but Heritage defeated Loganville 4-2 to secure the top seed.

Had the opposite happened, the regular season would have ended in a three-way tie between Gainesville, Heritage and Loganville, and appropriate GHSA tiebreaking procedures would have been utilized.

The Lady Red Elephants scored four goals in the second half, scoring twice within two minutes on two different occasions. Both of Fair’s goals came on breakaways, and Penado assisted on Turner’s goal off a corner by Margaret Carpenter.

Fair assisted on Espinoza’s tally in the 38th minute late in the first half.

Clarke Central (5-12, 2-6) has completed its season.

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