The Gainesville boys soccer team is back in the thick of the Region 8-AAAAAA race.
Thanks to a pair of early goals, the No. 4 Red Elephants knocked off undefeated region leader and 10th-ranked Winder-Barrow 2-1 on Tuesday night at a frigid City Park Stadium. With six games to go in region play, Gainesville coach Elie Viviant called the contest a “must-win.”
“If they would have won today, they probably would have run away with the region championship,” he said. “We’d be two games behind them in region. It would be really hard because then we’d have to hope that people beat them while we don’t lose any of ours.”
Instead, the Red Elephants (8-2-0, 3-1-0 region) find themselves in a much better situation.
They’re tied with the Bulldoggs (7-1-2, 3-1-0) atop the region standings, and Gainesville owns the tiebreaker because of its head-to-head win. The two teams square off again March 30 at Winder-Barrow.
The Red Elephants produced an early onslaught with five shots (three on goal) in the first eight minutes. The fifth shot found its mark off the foot of Dennis Turcios, who bent a beautiful ball into the upper-right corner of the net after an assist from Pedro Santos.
“I felt we had two or three really good chances in the first 10 minutes,” Viviant said. “We were hungry to score, so it was nice to take the lead.”
In the 25th minute, Alejandro Covarrubias extended that lead to 2-0. Covarrubias beat his defender around the right flank to clear some space for a shot that sailed into the net over the outstretched arms of Bulldoggs goalie Hayden Morgan.
Gainesville maintained the lead through the end of the first half, during which it controlled possession and put five shots on goal.
“I thought in the first half, we had five or six really good chances,” Viviant said. “We put two in, so I thought we deserved the lead at half. … Having two goals at halftime was really good. We felt a little bit more confident.”
Winder-Barrow, however, tested the Red Elephants’ confidence in the 56th minute when Michael Yang snuck a shot inside the near post off a throw-in.
But Gainesville quickly responded with offensive pressure. Within two minutes, the Red Elephants fired a shot that careened over the crossbar, then almost turned a corner kick into a goal, only for a well-timed header to scoot just wide of the right post.
Those solid chances kept Vivant confident even while the Bulldoggs created their own pressure.
“We were good because we still had two or three chances to really push our score to three,” the coach said. “At the end, obviously they are going to put some pressure because they know if we score, they lose the game. It’s easier for them to push six or seven people forward and outnumber us on that side. But I thought we did a good job at keeping them away.”
Despite missing a few players to injury, Gainesville’s back line diffused the handful of remaining threats Winder-Barrow mustered. The Bulldoggs missed on a pair of decent chances in the final two minutes — a free kick sailed wide right before Red Elephants goalie Eduardo Bautista made his fourth and final save to seal the win.
“We have a set of players who are pretty important to us that are hurt, but all in all, we have a good group of players,” Viviant said. “We have people who can step up and do their jobs.”
They came in handy for Gainesville, which effectively controls its own destiny down the stretch in region play.
“We have a really good chance now,” Viviant said. “We’re back in the mix.”
GAINESVILLE GIRLS 4, WINDER-BARROW 3: Cindy Bonilla notched a hat trick, including the game-winner four minutes into the first overtime period, as the Lady Red Elephants picked up a Region 8-AAAAAA win Tuesday night.
Gainesville (2-7-1, 1-3-0 region) fell behind 2-0 in the first half after Ansley Church tallied a pair of goals. But Kate Bush found the net about a minute before halftime, and Bonilla scored the equalizer shortly after the break.
The Lady Bulldoggs (3-5-1, 0-3-0) reclaimed the lead on Sophia Kay’s goal in the 58th minute before Bonilla deftly navigated a crowded penalty box to again even the score.
Winder-Barrow came away empty-handed on a few good chances near the goal between both overtime periods as Bonilla’s goal in the 84th minute decided the game.