The odds were against North Hall from the start.
Facing the eighth-ranked girls team in the state, the Lady Trojans were playing with a striker as their starting goalkeeper, employed only one holding midfielder to provide cover for the defense, and were continually pressed in the first half.
Katie Estrada never quit.
The senior striker chased down a fortuitous rebound off of teammate Myra Zimmerman’s long-range shot in the 75th minute to earn a 1-0 victory Tuesday night at No. 8 Chestatee that handed the Lady Trojans (5-3, 2-0 Region 8-AAAA) their third straight win.
“We’re definitely not a quick-start team,” said Estrada, who also scored a second-half game-winner against Johnson on March 8. “At the end of the day, I think we have the girls here to achieve what we want and get to state.”
Despite getting pegged back for the opening 40 minutes of play, North Hall regrouped through the midfield, using Alexis Flanagan and Zimmerman to feed passes through to Estrada. Zimmerman’s optimistic shot from 25 yards out was too hot for Chestatee keeper Emma Dollyhigh, who parried the shot into Estrada’s path.
The hard-fought result pushes the Lady Trojans into the top half of the region table as the only team other than Buford (7-2, 3-0) without a region loss.
“We were trying to get up early, just to take some pressure off of us,” said North Hall coach Gary Gaddy. “We thought maybe that if we could just pen them in and play defensively, try to come out with a result.”
But after North Hall survived a first-half onslaught by the Lady War Eagles, Gaddy introduced a second attacking midfielder to push the tempo, a move that provided Estrada the space to push forward from her center forward spot.
The Lady Trojans were already out of their comfort zone, having to use junior striker Bekah Stephens (7 saves) as their starting goalie after Erica Clark (two yellow cards) was recently handed a one-game suspension.
Sophomore Maddie Cook gained the highest praise from both coaches in her sweeper/midfield role ahead of North Hall’s defensive four, cutting out Chestatee passes and providing outlet for the Lady War Eagles.
“She was the game changer,” said first-year Chestatee coach Ryan Hogue. “She did her job, winning balls and putting it in dangerous spots. I think we’re top three, top four in this region, for sure. But we sure dropped the ball tonight. We didn’t play like we should be top three, top four.”
The Lady War Eagles (4-2-1, 2-2) bossed the possession, but couldn’t turn shots into viable goal-scoring chances. Chestatee (10 shots, seven on goal) forced four corners, compared to North Hall’s two.
“We felt that with Maddie holding well in the back, we could afford to push people up and go for it,” said Gaddy. “That’s what allowed us to have speed on the outside and force (Chestatee) to make a choice, to pick who they guarded.”
Estrada said she has been trained to always crash the goalmouth, no matter how hard the incoming shot may be, a tendency that helped North Hall secure a confidence-boosting win.
“I wasn’t expecting the goalie to rebound it,” said Estrada. “It was definitely lucky that I went for it after Myra’s shot. You try to get up as much as you can, to be in the middle of it all.”
North Hall, which has won five of the last six games dating back to Feb. 19, will next travel to Danielsville to play Madison County 5:30 p.m. Friday before hosting Buford 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Chestatee now begins a five-game road stretch that includes four region games. Chestatee next travels to Rabun-Gap Nacoochee School 5 p.m. Friday before playing White County in Cleveland on Tuesday.
CHESTATEE 2, NORTH HALL 2 (CHESTATEE 4, NORTH HALL 2 ON PENALTY KICKS): Goalkeeper Steven Martinez made a key save on North Hall’s final penalty kick in Tuesday’s shootout to secure Chestatee’s first region victory of the 2016 season.
The War Eagles (4-2, 1-1 Region 8-AAAA) fought back from a 2-0 first-half deficit to earn the win, Chestatee’s third in the last four games dating back to Feb. 23.
Goals from Sammy Diaz (3rd minute) and Blanton Jimerson (15th minute) gave the visiting Trojans a commanding lead before Jaime Ortega (penalty in 32nd minute) and Uriel Rocha (45th minute) wrestled the War Eagles back into contention.
Midfielder Austin Manzo missed two golden chances for Chestatee in overtime, skying shots over the bar in each 5-minute extra period as the War Eagles attempted to avoid penalty kicks.
But Ortega, Heduin Garcia, Matteus Jennings and Rocha all scored their spot kicks to push Chestatee to a vital region win.
Diaz hit the left post on his shot from the spot for North Hall before Martinez denied Alec Zimmerman on North Hall’s last attempt.
“They showed resiliency,” said Chestatee coach Michael Herrin. “This is an emotional win for us, to come back and do it. It’s a confidence booster. We practice PK’s every day for a moment like this.”
North Hall (1-6-2, 0-2) is riding a four-game skid dating back to March 4.
Chestatee next tackles Stephens County at home on Friday before beginning a four-game road trip at White County on Tuesday.
North Hall next travels to Madison County on Friday before hosting Buford on Tuesday.