Quarterfinal game: West Hall vs. Coahulla Creek
When: TBA Saturday
Where: Spartan Field, West Hall High School
Tickets: $7, per GHSA rules
As West Hall’s undisputed field general, senior Simon Cobian has set high standards for his younger teammates throughout the season.
After seeing two former junior varsity members shine in the Spartans’ 4-1 win over Savannah Arts Academy in the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs Wednesday night, Cobian knew they were ready to play with the best.
Freshman Sergio Hernandez scored on a gorgeous bicycle kick in the 64th minute to give West Hall a four-goal lead, while fellow JV teammate Oscar Bravo continually shut down the Panthers’ attacks on the right wing to help send the Spartans into the state quarterfinals.
West Hall (10-1-2) will host Coahulla Creek at home on Saturday. Kickoff time is yet to be determined.
“I told the team, if you’re not bleeding, you’re not sweating, you’re not crying, I don’t want you on the field,” said Cobian. “We have a really strong bench. There are a lot of guys like Sergio, who scored one of the best goals I’ve ever seen. ... It helps us tremendously.”
Cobian opened the scoring for West Hall in the 22nd minute off of a direct free kick, Sammy Coto converted a penalty kick just before the half and Ramsis Martinez scored on a header before Hernandez’s wonder-strike put the game out of reach.
Hernandez and Bravo have proven worthy contributors after head coach Tim Gale brought them up from the JV squad last month, and will likely feature again as the Spartans progress through the playoffs. Bravo caused havoc for the visiting Panthers (16-3-1) on the right wing, and did well to give midfielder Brad Hodgson a shot from six yards out within the opening 10 minutes.
“I was just so happy to get the opportunity,” said Bravo of his first varsity start. “Before the game, I was so hyped, I had butterflies. It was a big moment for me.”
Cobian, a senior, put West Hall on the board when he slammed home a free kick from the top of the Savannah penalty box. Head coach Jdhordane Williams said his Savannah team wanted to minimize the damage before halftime, but conceded that his team “got out of firing range” after West Hall striker Sammy Coto buried a penalty five minutes before halftime.
The referees determined a Panthers defender handled the ball in the box while trying to clear a cross.
“The initial plan was to keep the score as low as possible,” said Williams. “We knew coming in that (West Hall) was quick, effective with passes, and we knew what we were up against. It was a David and Goliath thing, and we were David.”
Savannah began the second half with a renewed sense of urgency, but left gaps in its defense which Martinez was able to quickly exploit. The striker did well to latch on to a cross by Coto in the 45th minute, then head an effort past the onrushing Jason Paquette (three saves).
Sophomore Chandler New scored his team’s lone goal on a penalty kick with 18 minutes left to play. Despite tallying their best record since 2013, the Panthers were unable to match last year’s appearance in the state quarterfinals.
Coahulla Creek should provide a steeper challenge for West Hall. The Colts (14-6) have won three of their last four games, and have beaten both of their first two playoff opponents by a combined scored of 12-0.
“They’re a very good team and come from a very good region,” said Gale. “It’s a very talented matchup to me.”
The Spartans saw their best substitute appearance from Hernandez, who wowed the crowd with his goal with 26 minutes remaining. The freshman controlled Isaac Castruita’s pass into the edge of the box before Hernandez flicked the ball into the air, then launched a picture-perfect bicycle kick with his second touch to beat Paquette at his near post.
Hernandez said he’s been trying to make the move work all his life. But earning the respect of his older peers means just as much.
“I’m just happy I tried it,” he said. “It honestly means the world to me. It’s incredible. Being here on varsity means something huge.”