It was a game neither Gainesville nor North Hall wanted to lose and, rivalry aside, it was a game neither team could afford to lose.
With state playoff implications hanging in the balance, two 40-minute halves, two five-minute overtime periods and a round of five-player penalty kicks weren't enough to decide a winner between the Lady Trojans and Lady Red Elephants.
But in the second and sudden-death round of penalty kicks, North Hall freshman Tristian Bailey kicked a shot to the left inside post, and all Gainesville keeper Hong Tran could do is watch it sail through the net to give the Lady Trojans a 1-0 home win Thursday night in a critical Area 8-AAA match.
The win keeps the Lady Trojans (7-7, 7-3 8-AAA) mathematically alive for a top-four finish in the region, which would qualify them for a state playoff berth. The Lady Red Elephants (9-5, 7-3) meanwhile, missed an opportunity for separation from North Hall and others in a tight race in which seven of the region's 13 teams are still eligible for the playoffs with a week left to play.
Bailey made sure North Hall stayed in the hunt, putting an end to a game that lasted two hours, 10 minutes.
"I was trying to psyche the keeper out by making her go one way without psyching myself out and looking at her or at the (left) corner," Bailey said. "My strategy has always been to not look at the keeper when kicking PKs and it seems to work. I focused on keeping it low and hard and not paying attention to where the keeper was and I put it in the corner."
Chestatee, North Hall and Gainesville each have three region losses. All three teams are in a tie for fifth place, and need to win and get help from other teams to crack the top four.
Johnson, Oconee County and White County, with one region loss each, and West Hall, with two losses, currently man the top four positions.
"We knew that if we lost, we were pretty much done for a playoff run," Lady Trojans coach Nathan Wallace said. "The girls weren't going to let that happen and they played as hard as I've seen them play for a full 90 minutes, including the overtime, and then into PKs.
"We were fortunate because Gainesville has been in several overtime games this season already, and this was our first. The fact we were able to keep our mentality and stay strong was key for this group."
During regulation, each team had scoring opportunities, though sparse and hard-fought. Each one was met with either a great save or a defender altering the shot.
After two scoreless overtime periods, the first PK session ended in a two-all tie, with Gainesville's Mary-Catherine Dempsey and Liza Carpenter, and North Hall's Taylor Knight and Ali Souther scoring.
In the sudden-death PK session, Lady Trojans keeper Alden Powell made two saves and Bailey scored to end the game.
In each penalty kick session, the Lady Red Elephants were in position to win with a goal - thanks to several saves by Gainesville keeper Hong Tran - but were unable to convert.
"We're in a tough situation," said Tran, the team's leader and Times 2010 All-Area Player of the Year. "We have to win out all of our games, and now it's all about how bad the girls want this."
Lady Red Elephants coach Mark Wade believes Gainesville let game-winning opportunities slip away.
"I felt we had a lot of chances, especially in the second half, and we didn't finish," he said. "When you get to penalty kicks, and that late into penalty kicks (sudden death), it's 50-50.
"I think we let this game get to us a little bit, with the rivalry. But that happens sometimes in a big game."
Both Gainesville and North Hall will take a week off for spring break before resuming area play, with the Lady Red Elephants hosting Johnson on April 15 and the Lady Trojans hosting White County on April 12.
GAINESVILLE BOYS 2, NORTH HALL 0: The Red Elephants (12-2, 10-0) scored twice in the first 10 minutes with goals from Douglas Mejia and Carlos Sanchez. Edgar Espinoza had four saves in the shutout.