OAKWOOD — It took a while to find their rhythm, but once they did the West Hall Spartans never missed a beat.
Rudy Vazquez scored two of West Hall’s six goals to lead the Spartans to a 6-0 win against Franklin County on Friday in the first round of the Class AAA state soccer playoffs.
“This feels great,” said Vazquez, who scored the game’s first goal in the 10th minute off a throw in from Chandler Ligas. “I’m speechless. We’ve waited four years for this.”
Not only have Vazquez and the rest of the seniors waited four years to reach the state playoffs, but the West Hall boys soccer program experienced its first playoff win since the team reached the state quarterfinals in 2005.
For West Hall coach Wolfgang Jager, that time span felt just as long as the last time his team took the field.
“In the first half we were rusty,” Jager said. “After this long layoff, it was good that we had an opponent that our skills were better than their’s were. It was good because we could get our rhythm back.”
Just because Franklin County (6-7) may not have had the skill set of the third-ranked Spartans (15-3), didn’t mean the players were looking past their first-round opponent.
“We came in here saying not to underestimate your opponent,” Vazquez said. “Right now, state rankings don’t matter. State is a whole different level.”
The third-ranked Spartans showed their skills early by pestering the Franklin County goalkeeper throughout the first half, but with the exception of Vazquez’s goal, their shot attempts came up empty.
That all changed in the 32nd minute when a corner kick from Juan Arbelaez found Israel Del Toro in front of the goal for the team’s second score.
A minute later, Arbeleaz got in on the scoring when Gerson Mejia hit a left-footed cross to the senior, who juked past Lions goalie Davis Pintz and fired a shot into the back of the net.
Despite scoring three first-half goals, the Spartans were not satisfied.
“I told them at halftime not to worry about the goals, they will fall,” said Jager, whose team took 10 first-half shots and 29 for the game. “I wanted them to worry about defense and make sure everything was under control.”
The team heeded that advice and held Franklin County without a shot on goal for the first 35 minutes of the second half.
The same can’t be said for the Spartans, who scored their fourth goal on a through pass from Chris Lewis to Alec Wells, just eight minutes into the second half.
Six minutes later, the rout was on, as Vazquez took a tip pass from Ligas and fired a 15-yard shot into the right side of the goal to give West Hall a 5-0 lead.
Ligas scored six minutes later to complete the scoring barrage.
“This boosts our confidence,” Vazquez said. “We can’t come out the way we did in the first half, we won’t do anything in the playoffs. If we come out like we did in the second half, we can go far.”
How far is yet to be determined as the Spartans must now take on the winner of the Druid Hills/Cedartown game in Round 2.
The possibility of facing a tough team like fifth-ranked Druid Hills makes Friday’s impressive win all the more important for Jager.
“For the next game I expect a strong opponent,” Jager said. “It’s important that the team understand each other and continue their team play.”
West Hall will play host to the second round of the state tournament, which is Wednesday at a time to be determined.