OAKWOOD — Playing in a top-heavy region, West Hall boys soccer coach Wolfgang Jager knows that every contest is like a playoff game.
That’s especially the case when competing against one of the four teams battling for a playoff spot, and although there are still four games remaining in the regular season, the Spartans inched closer to returning to the postseason with a 3-2 win over No. 8 Lambert on Tuesday in Oakwood.
“The one that went on to win this game is closer to the playoffs,” Jager said after his team outscored the Longhorns 5-4 on penalty kicks. “This was an important win.”
It was also a hard-fought win, as the Spartans (10-3, 7-0 Area 7-AAA) fell behind 1-0 after Brett Godwin headed in a corner kick from Dale Ashford with 17:50 left in the first half.
The Spartans tied the game at 1-1 when Chandler Ligas scored on a free kick with seven minutes gone in the second half and took the lead when Ligas converted on a penalty kick after a Lambert player was called for a hand ball.
Lambert (9-3, 6-2) tied the game when Iain Smith headed in a throw-in with 11:59 to play.
After a scoreless overtime, the game went to penalty kicks and instead of calling on the goalie who had played the whole game, Jager tabbed Darwin Mejia as his shootout keeper.
It turned out to be the best decision of the game.
After allowing the first three shooters to score, Mejia guessed right on the fourth attempt and made a game-changing save.
“It just turned out that in practice that he’s shown the best skills,” Jager said. “He lived up to the task.”
And his efforts were rewarded with a win when Jose Hernandez and Ligas converted on their kicks to end the game.
Jager complimented his entire team for the win, but he said that the outcome wouldn’t have been possible without Ligas.
“Chandler was the reason we won,” Jager said. “That No. 5 guy in the shootout, when the game is on the line, needs to have nerves and he has steel nerves.”
West Hall plays host to Johnson at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
LAMBERT GIRLS 2, WEST HALL 1: Even before the teams took the field Tuesday, Gareth Allcott knew his Lady Spartans’ were at a disadvantage.
Not only were they playing host to No. 5 Lambert, but the Lady Spartans were playing without their starting goalie and top goal-scorer, who were both injured.
“We knew the only way to make it even was to get after them,” Allcott said after his team’s loss Tuesday in Oakwood. “We didn’t enter this game thinking that if we kept it respectable we’d pat ourselves on the backs.
“We wanted to win.”
That was evident a back-and-forth first half, and when Brooke Reed scored on a free kick from 35 yards out, the Lady Spartans put Lambert on its heels.
But any momentum built from that first goal changed hands 15 seconds later when Jordan Harman found the back of the net to even the score. The Lady Longhorns took the lead for good when Tatum Richey scored with 10:25 left in the game.
“A team is at its most vulnerable with a one-goal lead,” Allcott said. “We were thinking too much about celebrating and not preventing a quick goal.”
Lambert (10-3, 7-1 Area 7-AAA) coach Scott Luthart said that West Hall’s first goal did nothing but motivate his players.
“That was a wake-up call,” Luthart said. “Up until that point, we kept them out of any dangerous chances.”
Even though his defense was playing well, so were the Lady Spartans (7-5, 5-2), who forced Lambert into playing their style of soccer.
“They play more direct and we’re more about building up our possessions,” Luthart said. “I was irritated in the first half because we were mirroring their style.”
Both teams had a chance to make some in-half adjustments when an accident nearby forced a helicopter to land on West Hall’s field so the small child involved in that accident could be air-lifted to the hospital.
Allcott said that was the “first time he’s ever been apart of something like that,” and that the accident “put some perspective” on the game.
Luthart was also taken aback by the event, but he used the 30 minute break in the action to address his players.
“That was the best thing that happened to us,” he said. “It was like having a second halftime. I thought we moved the ball well coming out of that break that allowed us to do some things to help us be successful.”
West Hall plays host to Johnson at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.