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Gainesville boys win Class AAA state soccer title
Woodward Academy's Hugh Pringle and Gainesville's Monish Lahiry collide while fighting for control of the ball during the first half of the Class AAA championship game in College Park Friday. Gainesville won the state title 3-2 in penalty kicks. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
ATLANTA — As evenly matched as Gainesville and Woodward Academy were, it was only fitting that the Class AAA state championship would be determined by penalty kicks.

After finishing regulation and overtime tied 2-2, the second-ranked Red Elephants outscored the War Eagles 5-4 in the shootout for a 3-2 win to claim their first boys soccer title since 1998.

“I’m numb,” Gainesville coach Rick Howard said. “This is incredible.”

So was the finish of what could only be described as a classic, hard-fought game between two of the best soccer teams in Class AAA.

With the shootout tied 4-4 at the end of the first round of kickers, Gainesville (19-0) goalie Marco Monreal guessed right on a shot by Alex Goodwin to set up a chance for sophomore Aiden Reising to win the game.

“Marco’s incredible,” Howard said. “He’s been sitting behind (2009 graduate) Phillip Gaines for two years and he’s been patient and did everything he could to get better.”

Monreal’s efforts paid off minutes later.

As he approached the ball, Reising remembered everytime he’s ever taken a penalty kick and knew the one thing he needed to do was have a plan.

His plan to go left worked to perfection and he was mobbed by his teammates after he gave the Red Elephants the win.

“Before I even walked up to the ball my teammates told me ‘You’re cool, you do this all the time,’” Reising said. “I went up there knowing exactly what I was going to do.”

Reising was the only player in the shootout to go to the left and it paid off to the fullest extent.

“I couldn’t even watch,” Howard said. “I hate ending games like this. It’s so hard.”

But someone had to lose, and despite its best efforts, that team was Woodward Academy (18-4).

“They’re a very good, very well-coached team,” Howard said of the War Eagles. “They really took it to us at times.”

Specifically Hugh Pringle and Bayard Geeslin, whose dynamic ball control led to the equalizer with 5:56 left in regulation.

Trailing 2-1 and running out of time, Geeslin dribbled the ball down the sideline, cut down the endline and found a wide-open Pringle in front of the goal. Pringle wasted no time and fired the ball past Monreal for the tying score.

The Red Elephants took a 2-1 lead with 26 minutes left in the game when Carlos Sanchez, who had just entered the game, received a long pass from Nathan Dillard and pushed a lefty shot past Woodward’s John Huffines.

“I gotta give coach (Vicente) Elie credit for that one,” Howard said. “He makes all the in-game substitutions and that one worked out great.”

Sanchez’s goal was the first of the second half, and the first from a Gainesville player. The Red Elephants first score came courtesy of an own goal by Woodward Academy’s Wesley Mason, who inadvertently kicked a throw-in from Irving Salgado into the back of the net.

“Those things happen,” Howard said. “But everything ends up getting evened out in the end.”

That luck that was on Gainesville’s side early shifted to Woodward Academy, which scored its first goal off a couple of headed balls near the Gainesville goal.

The goal was set up off a free kick that first landed on the head of Pringle, then went up in the air and onto the head of Anthony Oberti, who pushed it over the head of Monreal.

Although he was disappointed to give up that goal and the others, Monreal more than made up for it with his incredible save in the shootout.

“This was intense,” Reising said. “They gave us a battle and we couldn’t have asked for better competition for a state championship.”

Douglass Mejia, Irving Salgado, Russ Puckett and Charlie Bryant also scored in the shootout for Gainesville.
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