West Hall girls at Savannah Arts Academy
When: 6 p.m. May 5
Where: Savannah Arts Academy, Savannah
There was still a trickle of blood threatening to run down Reachel Beaulieu’s face as she climbed the stairs of Jefferson’s Memorial Stadium on Thursday night.
The senior had a date with the emergency room after she collided with a Jefferson defender in the 74th minute of West Hall’s first-round win in the Class AAA playoffs. Beaulieu was the worse off, coming away with a roughly four-inch laceration between her forehead and the top of her nose that would require multiple layers of stitches.
But for now, that would wait.
Jeff Williams, the Dragons’ coach, needed to have a word with her.
“That was inspiring, what you did,” said Williams, a former West Hall teacher who taught many of the Lady Spartans’ starting roster. “I was so moved, I thought you were just the strongest player out on that field.”
Beaulieu had scored early in the second half to give her team a 3-2 advantage before Jefferson fought back to lead 4-3 in the dying minutes of regulation. With six minutes left to play, the senior collided with a Jefferson player, causing both to clatter to the ground. Beaulieu’s head came up first, showing the crowd a thick layer of blood and sweat caked across her face. She said she doesn’t remember much about the contact, except how much it hurt.
“I just remember going after the ball, and then splitting pain, right between my eyes,” she said after the game. “But my last game, I wasn’t going out.”
Faced with the decision of keeping his best striker in the game, or sitting her on the bench, West Hall coach Adam Johnson did the only sensible thing he could do.
Ask Mom if it would be all right.
“I wasn’t even going to try to talk (Reachel) out of it,” Johnson said. “I knew that wasn’t possible. I just knew I needed to get Mom’s permission.”
Cindy Beaulieu gave the go-ahead, and the coaching staff bandaged Reachel’s head as tightly as possible before she got back on the field and proceeded to try a bicycle kick on the next West Hall corner.
The last thing Beaulieu wanted was to end her high school career with an injury. In her first three high school seasons, she suffered and fought back from three consecutive knee surgeries just to get a start in her final year as a Lady Spartan.
With that opportunity, she now leads the team in goals scored, and helped West Hall secure a 3 seed in Region 7-AAA.
“She’s an unfinished story,” said Johnson of Beaulieu, who has dreams of attending college to become a physical therapist. “We were just hoping she’d make it through the season, but she’s got all her high school career in just this one season.”
Izabel Salgado pulled the Lady Spartans level with a last-second shot in regulation before Beaulieu, Salgado, Katie Kirkland and Monica Payero all scored from the spot to push West Hall to a historic win. For the second time in program history, the Lady Spartans will play in the second round of the state playoffs.
West Hall (6-7-2) will take on sixth-ranked Savannah Arts Academy (16-3) in Savannah on May 5.
Williams said he’ll be cheering on the Lady Spartans as far as they can go. He called Thursday’s result a “storybook ending.”
“This is her shot, otherwise she’s done,” he said. “What a gutsy, gutsy girl. I can’t be mad at that. You never want to lose, but if that’s how you lose, that’s the way I’d want it.”
Beaulieu and her team will hope that ending will be postponed one more week. The senior received 21 stitches on the outside of her forehead from the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Braselton a few hours after the game, then attended North Hall’s prom later on Friday with a travel team friend.
“I like being tough,” she said. “I’ve been put in that situation a lot.”
Whether it’s been surgeries, rehabilitation or a crunching blow to the head, Beaulieu isn’t about to end her final season early. The only thing that would stop her?
“If I wasn’t walking,” she said.