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VIDEO: East Hall boys set up 7-AAA title showdown with 4-0 win over West Hall
Lady Spartans earn 3-2 victory in PKs after both teams tied 1-1 after regulation, extra time
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West Hall's Lucy Ibarra

Leo Toledo is well aware of the history that surrounds East Hall’s yearly battle against Dawson County.

Four straight years of ending a game in nerve-jangling penalty kick shootout drama can do that to a player. But this year’s trip will be different, according to the senior striker.

Second-ranked East Hall (16-1, 5-0 Region 7-AAA) blew past region rival West Hall with a 4-0 victory Friday night in Oakwood in a result that means the Vikings and third-ranked Tigers (11-2-1, 5-0) will meet in Gainesville 7:30 p.m. Tuesday for a de facto region title game.

So does Toledo think fans will see a fifth straight shootout?

“No, we’re gonna finish this,” said Toledo, a Mercer University commit. “Our offense, our mentality, with this attack, I don’t think anyone can stop us.”

Toledo notched the go-ahead goal, Sergio Turcios scored in both halves and Maury Ibarra clinched the victory with a late shot to help second-ranked East Hall to its eighth straight win.

The Vikings’ only loss of the season came last month to top-ranked Johnson from Class AAAA.

“Anybody who’s not got a game going on at that time should probably come to watch this,” said East Hall coach Ted Deppe, wearing a broad smile. “This’ll be a lot of fun.”

Friday night’s showcase was about taking care of business. The Vikings assured themselves of hosting a first-round playoff game in the Class AAA state tournament by making clinical finishes against the defending state champion Spartans (6-5-1, 4-2).

Toledo shook off a rare miss in a fourth-minute penalty by scoring just nine minutes later to give East Hall a lead it would never concede. The senior did well to control the ball on the edge of the box before juking out a defender before finishing in the bottom right of the West Hall goalkeeper’s net.

Toledo said the earlier miss never fazed him.

“Nah, I’ve missed before, I’m human,” he said. “I knew that I could get a moment like that back. It was all about getting back in form and break out of that three-man defense they were bringing me.”

Turcios saw his long-range shot take a wicked deflection for a 2-0 lead just seconds before halftime, and secured his second goal 12 minutes later after chipping the keeper on the left edge of the box.

Deppe said his team is ready and raring to go for the playoffs.

“We’re lucky to be in Hall County,” he said. “We’re as prepared as any other area in the state to compete in the playoffs. I’d put our county up against anyone else. … We’re settled into what we want to do and we know we have an opportunity to go deep in state.”

Oscar Bravo earned West Hall’s best chance of the game when he rocketed his 75th-minute free kick toward the upper 90, but Vikings keeper Amir Solis knocked it away to safety.

West Hall locks up the No. 3 seed in this year’s state playoffs. The Spartans finish the season with two non-region matches, away to Flowery Branch (Tuesday) and at Chestatee (April 22).

Ibarra knocked home a short finish midway through the second half to seal East Hall’s comfortable win.

“Our defense is locking down, the offense is passing, moving, doing really well,” said Toledo. “The pieces of the puzzle are coming together. We just need one more (for region). It’s going to be a helluva game.”

And even if it does go to penalty kicks, Toledo shouldn’t be too worried: The Vikings are 3-1 in the past four years against Dawson County.

The Vikings fell to eventual state runners-up Calhoun in last year’s state quarterfinals, while Dawson County also fell in the quarterfinals to Decatur.

WEST HALL 1, EAST HALL 1 (WEST HALL WINS 3-2 ON PENALTY KICKS): West Hall goalkeeper Lucy Ibarra pulled off two diving saves in a penalty shootout to help the Lady Spartans secure an emotional victory over region foe East Hall Friday night in Oakwood. 

Ibarra (four saves) dove to her right to deny both Maryana Hernandez and Jancy Almendares, while West Hall’s Tammy Pham, Angela Benitez and Shelley Anderson converted the Spartans’ opening three spot kicks. 

“I was really nervous, but I knew I had to put my faith in God,” said Ibarra. “The whole team did a great job, and coach (Tyler Esson) motivates us. I felt great about myself, I just knew that I had to do it for them.”

West Hall (3-10, 2-4 Region 7-AAA) is finished in region play, while East Hall (5-11-1, 2-3) next hosts second-ranked Dawson County in a region showdown. 

Both teams battled into overtime after Reagan Horton’s 44th minute header cancelled out Marcy Villatoro’s opening strike for the Lady Vikings in the 33rd minute.

East Hall’s Jade Reed had a chance to break the tie with less than a minute and a half to play in the second half, but her breakthrough on goal was flagged for offsides. West Hall’s Tammy Pham had a strong chance on a header just five minutes after Horton’s equalizer, but it floated just wide of the near post. 

Both teams remain mathematically open for the Class AAA state playoffs, but many of the scenarios ride on the result of Tuesday’s Banks County-Fannin County region game. 

East Hall next hosts Dawson County 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. West Hall finishes its regular season with two non-region matches, away to Flowery Branch (Tuesday) and at Chestatee (April 22).

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