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High school soccer: Gainesville boys shutout Habersham Central 3-0, grab first in Region 8-AAAAAA
Cindy Bonilla scores hat trick for Gainesville in girls' win
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Gainesville's Alexis Salazar (19) looks to pass the ball to a teammate while being guarded by Habersham Central's Alexis Laguna (6) and Steven Bennett (2) during Friday night's game at City Park in Gainesville. - photo by Erin O. Smith

The Gainesville boys soccer team continues to trend in the right direction toward a potential Region 8-AAAAAA championship and top playoff seeding.

Less than three weeks after a their thrilling double-overtime outing, the fourth-ranked Red Elephants completed the regular-season sweep of Habersham Central on Friday night in convincing fashion with a 3-0 shutout under the lights of Bobby Gruhn Field.

It now pits the Red Elephants (11-2, 5-1 Region 8-AAAAAA) in a critical Tuesday night showdown with Dacula (5-5, 4-2), which dropped a narrow contest to Apalachee on Friday to bump Gainesville up to first place in the Region 8-AAAAAA.

With four region games remaining on the docket, a win next Tuesday would present Gainesville a clearer path toward another league crown, first under first-year coach Eli Viviant who stepped in for longtime coach Rick Howard in the fall.

The Red Elephants have already outscored Lanier and Apalachee by a combined 10-1 advantage from earlier in the season, and beat Winder Barrow in a 2-1 edge last week.

“If we can take care of that, we’ll be in position,” said Vivant. “(Winning the region) is good if you want to go far in the playoffs, it’s nice to play at home. And that’s what we’re trying to do this year. I believe we can go pretty far in the playoff if we are No. 1 seed, but if we fall out of the No. 1 seed, it’s going to be really tough for us.”

Gainesville stretched the pitch to net all three goals in the first half. It’s onslaught was fueled by a number of crosses from both wings, a pair of balls even coming dangerously close to granting the Red Elephants the lead as early as the fourth minute.

Habersham Central goalkeeper Cristian Tinoco had a sliding kick save to bail out the Raiders from the early one-goal deficit after Brandon Reyna floated a right-footed cross inside the six-yard box. And minutes later, another cross navigated to Dennis Turcios from the right flank resulted in a header strike sailing just over the right post.

Gainesville’s persistence finally took its toll on Habersham Central’s defense in the 25th minute, when Cristian Rodriguez came down with a ball over the middle, settled and sliced a beautiful 20-yard left-footed attempt through left inside-corner pocket for the one-goal lead.

The Red Elephants snuck another one over Habersham Central’s back line three minutes later, as another cross was punched away by an outstretched Tinoco, and Armando Hernandez’s initial attempt bounced off the right goal post before Pedro Sandros followed with a rebound into the back of the net for the second score.

“We have a wide field, probably one of the widest in Georgia,” said Viviant. “We play four flat in the middle, and we play a lot on the sides. We were a little bit lucky on one, but I felt it works for us. It’s better for us like that.”

In the 34th minute Reyna, from 30-yards out near the visitor’s sideline, looped an initial cross up and over goalkeeper Tinoco’s head and inside the left post for a three-goal advantage.

Raiders defender Alejandro Medina saved a potential fourth goal by Gainesville with a perfectly timed slide tackle inside the six-yard box. He denied Santos, who snuck inside the box down the left flank by weaving his way around a defender to unload a shot.

On Tuesday, Gainesville faces Dacula for a 7:30 p.m. match at City Park Stadium.

GAINESVILLE GIRLS 4, HABERSHAM CENTRAL GIRLS 2: A pair of sophomores came through late in this Region 8-AAAAAA game to help the Lady Red Elephants (3-9-1, 2-5 Region 8-AAAAAA).

Cindy Bonilla notched a hat trick, while Jessica Hackney scored the go-ahead goal in the 69th minute on a chip shot over the goalkeeper.

Hackney’s successful strike to put the Red Elephants up 3-2 was soon followed by Bonilla’s final goal of the afternoon, solidifying the hat trick with 1:24 remaining. Bonilla was assisted by junior Kate Bush, who from near mid field aired a free kick in the sophomore’s vicinity, and a breakaway ensued.

Bonilla’s softly placed right-footed touch rolled and curved inside the right post.

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