Playing in their final game at City Park on Tuesday night, Gainesville High’s seniors made sure their last home game wouldn’t be their last high school game.
Led by senior co-captain Raquel Castillo, who scored the game’s first goal and assisted on two others, the Lady Red Elephants defeated West Hall 3-1 to snap a two-game losing skid and give their team a berth in the Class AAA state playoffs as the No. 4 seed from Area 7-AAA.
“The seniors really wanted it,” said Gainesville (10-5, 7-4 Area 7-AAAA) coach Mark Wade, whose team will play Carrollton in the first round of the state playoffs. “They did a lot of talking about how they didn’t want the season to end at City Park.”
Castillo made sure that didn’t happen by scoring the game’s first goal in the 13th minute on a long pass from Liza Carpenter.
With Gainesville attacking, West Hall (7-9, 5-6) cleared the ball out of its penalty area, but right toward Carpenter. After the ball bounced once, Carpenter chipped the ball over the head of the defense and onto the foot of the surging Castillo, who one-touched a left-footed shot past the outstretched arms of West Hall goalie Alex Smith.
Smith finished with three saves.
“Just getting that first goal was critical because we have been struggling to score lately,” Wade said.
The Lady Red Elephants executed a perfect corner kick for their next goal, as Castillo lofted the ball into the box and fellow senior Maggie Norton scored on a header.
“For the past year we said we were going to score on a head-in,” Norton said.
Wade said he couldn’t have scripted a better goal.
“That’s how you draw them up,” he said. “And that was the right person to finish, as Maggie finishes 90 percent of them in practice.”
West Hall got on the board with 14:48 left in the game when Monica Pascual played a ball to Tania Perez, who scored on a lefty shot that snuck past Gainesville goalie Hong Tran. Perez had four shot attempts in the game, and her goal was West Hall’s first shot of the second half.
The Lady Spartans totaled six shots on goal for the game.
Gainesville answered minutes later when Castillo led the ball to Hartley Carter, who fired a shot over the head of Smith and into the back of the net.
Carter’s shot was Gainesville’s lone shot on goal in the second half and its seventh of the game.
“She’s been doing that for four years,” Wade said of Castillo. “We expect this type of game from her.”
Castillo might have had the most productive final game at City Park, but according to Norton, it was the group of five seniors — Castillo, Norton, Honey-Beth Campbell, Andie Allen and Kelly Mattick — that made the win possible.
“We all wanted to go out as hard as we could,” Norton said. “We have seven practices to get ready for Carrollton and we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure we keep this season going.”
With the loss, West Hall’s season is now complete.
GAINESVILLE BOYS 3, WEST HALL 1: Irving Salgado scored two goals, including the game-winner with 4:10 left to play to keep the Red Elephants’ undefeated season intact.
Salgado scored his first goal on a free kick in the first half and capped off his final regular season home game by stealing the ball near midfield and firing a left-footed shot past West Hall’s goalie.
Christian Gomez headed in a late goal off a pass from Carlos Sanchez for Gainesville (14-0, 11-0 Area 7-AAA).
Elvin Mendieta scored the lone goal for the Spartans (10-7, 7-4), who reached the state finals last year but were eliminated from the playoffs due to a loss to Creekview earlier this season.
Gainesville plays host to the No. 4 seed from Area 6-AAA in the first round of the playoffs.