Soaked to the bone, a broad smile on his face, Simon Cobian (VIDEO) wasn’t about to pass up his opportunity for a little fun on a dreary Friday night.
Minutes after West Hall clinched its second Region 7-AAA title in three years, Cobian joined his merry band of Spartans to race toward the visiting supporters at East Hall Stadium and slide knees-first in celebration into a four-inch deep puddle of rainwater.
After two hours of battling through a constant downpour, West Hall deserved to enjoy the moment.
“We fought it out to the end,” he said after a 2-0 victory over region rival East Hall. “We got the result we wanted, and region champs is what we get.”
Earlier in the night, Reachel Beaulieu scored a hat trick to lead the Lady Spartans to a 5-0 win over rivals East Hall, setting up a Class AAA playoff appearance.
Cobian scored in the 16th minute before freshman Rodolfo Aleman tapped home in the 64th minute to lead West Hall (8-1-2, 6-0) to an undefeated region record. The Spartans are riding a six-game winning streak into the state playoffs, where they’ll host a first-round game as a No. 1 seed.
Meanwhile, East Hall (11-5-1, 4-1) has lost two of the last four games heading into a decisive showdown at Dawson County (10-2-2, 4-1) in Dawsonville on Tuesday. The winner of that game will clinch the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
“This is what the boys wanted,” said Spartans head coach Tim Gale. “They worked hard, and it was great to get the win. We have a lot of seniors and juniors here, so it means something.”
Gale said he was concerned about what a large, slow-moving storm would do for West Hall’s ability to dribble through coverage. In the end, both teams fell prey to the poor conditions. Cobian nearly slipped a long-range shot past East Hall keeper Amir Solis in the opening two minutes that Solis had to collect despite a large mud puddle on his goal line.
With just over 15 minutes gone, Cobian had better luck on his next try. He pulled off a dipping shot from 22 yards out that slipped past the keeper’s fingers, giving the Spartans an early lead.
“The weather was a main factor,” said Cobian. “We were all slipping and sliding. I knew the keeper’s hands were all wet, so I blasted it and it went in. The way it slides so much, you expect it to keep going.”
As the rain worsened, so did the pace of play. East Hall forward Leo Toledo found Brandon Bonilla open in the West Hall box in the 43rd minute, but Bonilla missed wide-left from six yards out. West Hall’s Brad Hodgson and East Hall’s Giezi Barrientos were both booked for harsh tackles as neither team could build up much momentum down the flanks.
It took an effort of lone brilliance to break the result open late in the second half. Richie Castruita collected the ball 20 yards deep in his own half before taking off on a mesmerizing, zig-zag run through the entire East Hall midfield before finding Aleman all alone in the Vikings penalty box.
Aleman slotted home, then turned to Castruita to thank him for the easy opportunity.
“We’re still a team that’s trying to get better, to improve,” said Gale. “We feel we have a deep enough team to go far in the playoffs.”
Spartan goalkeeper Cesar Villa (four saves) had an excellent night despite the elements. He did well to collect several long through-balls, and went full-extension to parry away a Sherman Lucero free kick with six minutes left.
East Hall managed just one shot on goal in the second half.
“I can’t blame the weather,” said Vikings coach Chris Horton. “We both were playing in it. It both affected us, we just didn’t do what we had to do to win.”
Cobian, who also helped his team win region in 2013, said his team has a different mindset heading into the playoffs.
“We knew we were good, but now we’re all about being humble,” he said. “We give ourselves every single time. My partner’s for me, and I’m for them.”
WEST HALL GIRLS 5, EAST HALL 0: After three straight years of seasons cut short by injuries, Beaulieu’s aim as a senior was simply to finish.
After registering a hat trick against region rival East Hall on Friday night, she’ll be leading her Lady Spartans team into the Class AAA playoffs.
Beaulieu scored in the 24th, 35th and 53rd minutes to beat the Vikings (3-14, 3-2 Region 7-AAA) and ensure West Hall will enter the state playoffs as a No. 3 seed. The Lady Spartans will play at Jefferson in the first round on April 30.
The senior suffered season-ending knee surgeries in her first three years as a high school athlete, but helped lead her team to a 5-7-2 regular season, including a 4-2 region record.
“It’s super exciting,” she said. “The whole team works really hard for it. I’m glad I finally made it through the season. It was a big relief, like you wouldn’t believe. I really doubted I would make it this far.”
Freshman Izabel Salgado added goals in both halves to pace West Hall in the victory against East Hall, which has lost five of its last six games. The Lady Spartans ended their regular season with their first win in April.
The Lady Vikings will finish their season with a trip to No. 3 Dawson County on April 21.