Despite a slick field, gusts of wind and the cold, the West Hall boys soccer team was able to create chances that led to a 4-0 win against Decatur in the first round of the Class AAA state tournament on Friday in Oakwood.
Yet still, head coach Andrew McCain summed up the match in one surprising word — fun.
“It was fun,” he said. “It affected the game some and made it where it wasn’t beautiful soccer all the time. It was a bit messy, and to me, that’s fun. I love those conditions.”
Although the team was unable to capitalize on some opportune chances due to the windy conditions, the Spartans (15-2) took a 2-0 lead into halftime and kept pushing to earn the victory.
West Hall plays host to Oconee County in the second round of the state tournament next Wednesday in Oakwood. The game time has yet to be determined.
No matter the opponent, however, McCain said his team’s plan remains the same.
“We’re not going to change anything. We’re going to be who we are because it works for us.”
Senior Alejandro Zamora opened the scoring on a 40-yard shot around the halfway mark of the first half.
“It felt amazing,” Zamora said of his game-winning goal.
After West Hall’s first goal, the momentum shift was tangible as the bench erupted in cheers, but the transition in pace is nothing new for McCain’s team.
“That’s classic,” he said. “Once we get a goal, the momentum just starts building, and my guys play better when they’re relaxed.
“They get excited, and once that happens, it’s contagious and it works in our favor.”
The classic Spartan mentality held true as West Hall scored another goal less than a minute later to take a 2-0 lead into halftime.
Cesar Villa scored on an assist from Omar Castillo, and the team’s excitement was clear from Villa’s back flip on the sideline.
“It was hyper,” said senior Cesar Marceleno. “The bench went wild and we knew we had this.”
Decatur (6-8-1) responded with pressure, but the West Hall defense made four consecutive slide tackles to keep the ball away from the Bulldogs. Goalkeeper Frankie Vazquez made a series of saves to keep the Spartans in the game throughout both halves.
“My goalie, Frankie Vazquez, has been outstanding and has come through with some really key plays,” McCain said. “He showed that when he makes a save, he’s able to react and adapt to when they try and play clean-up or score off a deflection. He’s surprisingly athletic in that he can get back up and deflect the ball.”
Villa scored again just 47 seconds into the second half to put the Spartans up 3-0 over Decatur, but the Bulldogs pushed right back just a few minutes later. Vazquez and the West Hall defense stood strong on the goal line to prevent a Decatur goal off a number of rebounds and deflections.
The Spartans closed out the scoring on a goal from Sammy Coto with just over six minutes left to play.
Marceleno noted that the team had high expectations for themselves coming into the game as the No. 1 seed but that they don’t affect the team negatively.
“There have to be some in order for us to play good,” he said. “We were ready. We just had to step on the field and do what we like to do.”
Despite the messy conditions, Marceleno felt the team was well-prepared and knew how to handle Decatur and the weather.
“We just had to control the fast ball and do our one-turn and shoot drills and play hard,” he said.
McCain emphasized how talented his players are and how well they’ve adapted to him in his first year as the West Hall head coach.
“For one, I feel lucky to have a great group of players,” he said. “Second, we’ve been able to adapt and evolve in a way that has made us unpredictable, and we’re successful in that way.