In a crowded Region 8-AAA in which five teams are in the hunt for the final two playoff spots with a little more than a week remaining in the season, North Hall is in a must-win scenario each time it takes the soccer field.
In the second time in as many games, the Lady Trojans extended their postseason hopes with a home win in the sudden-death penalty kick round on Tuesday against seventh-ranked White County, with Anna Matthews the latest to play the role of hero by kicking the game-winning goal.
Matthews’ goal came in the first sudden-death round, which came after a scoreless tie at the end of regulation and two five-minute overtime periods, and a 3-3 tie after the first penalty kick round.
Matthews scored after Lady Trojans keeper Alden Powell made a leaping save on White County’s shot attempt to open the sudden-death round.
“It scares all of us (to have the last two games come down to sudden-death PKs), but it shows we always pull through for each other,” said Matthews, whose game-winning shot rolled just past the keeper and inside the left post. “All of these games are important and we all want to make it to the playoffs, so we’re going to play our best.”
The win for the Lady Trojans (8-7, 8-3 8-AAA) mirrors that of their last game before spring break, a 1-0 win over Gainesville in which North Hall won in the sudden-death PK round.
Tristain Bailey kicked the game-winning goal in that match.
“This is twice in a row on the brink of elimination and they did it again,” Lady Trojans coach Nathan Wallace said. “These girls, what can you say about them? They just keep battling and this was our first game after spring break, which is always a hard one because the fitness isn’t there. But the girls came out and played hard and the defense stood up.
“And I guess we’re getting used to this PK thing.”
Each team had near goals in regulation, with North Hall’s coming with 15 seconds left in the first half when Alex Lawson caught Lady Warriors keeper Megan Runkle away from her post attempting to charge the ball. Lawson beat Runkle to the ball, but her uncontested shot hit the top cross-bar.
With 7:19 left in regulation, the Lady Indians (12-3, 7-3) had an open shot that also hit the post.
In the first PK round, Kelley Miller, Emily Smith and Bailey scored for North Hall, and Savannah Castles, Sam Ballinger and Kaitilyn Hooper scored for White County.
Despite the setback, White County coach Nathan Adams believes the Lady Warriors will quickly get back on track.
“We’re still in a good position if we win our last two games, because a lot of the other teams (in the hunt) still have a lot of tough games,” Adams said. “I think we’ll be fine. We’re disappointed, but I don’t think the kids are lacking confidence, because they played a good game. It’s frustrating, but in away this could turn out to be something that helps us in the end. You never know.”
The Lady Warriors’ remaining games are Friday at Lumpkin County and Tuesday at home against Chestatee. The Lady Trojans’ final game is against Oconee County.
Heading into Tuesday’s matches, Johnson (9-1) and Oconee County (8-1) held the top two spots, while West Hall (7-2) Gainesville (7-3) and Chestatee (6-3) were in the mix with North Hall and White County for third and fourth place.
The top four teams in the region advance to the state playoffs.
NORTH HALL BOYS 3, WHITE COUNTY 1: The Trojans (9-6-1, 7-3 8-AAA) got goals from Zach Tibbs, Adrian Guadarama and Tony Gonzalez, with assists coming from Tibbs, Ramon Salamanca and Martin Flores. Patrick Jones scored for the Warriors (1-13, 1-9).
Follow Adam Krohn at Twitter.com/gtimesakrohn.