OAKWOOD — West Hall senior Rachel Kline was just trying to get a foot on the ball after she received a pass in front of the Johnson goal.
When she did, her shot lofted over the Johnson goalkeeper and into the net for the game’s lone goal with just 6:34 remaining in a 1-0 win over the Lady Knights on Tuesday at West Hall.
“I was just trying to make contact,” she said. “I was hoping it would go in.”
Both teams were trying to avoid overtime, but for nearly 74 minutes neither team could find the net, despite a barrage of shots by West Hall (7-3, 4-1 Region 8-AAA) in the second half, as the Lady Spartans outshot Johnson 10-2 throughout the first 36 minutes of the second half.
“We wanted to get a goal before PK’s,” said West Hall senior Shannon Mundy.
Kline made sure of that, and the defense halted a furious Johnson attack throughout the final five minutes to hand the Lady Knights (6-3-1, 4-1) their first region loss of the season. It’s the first win for West Hall over Johnson since 2009, and it keeps the Lady Spartans in the top half of the region standings, along with Johnson, just under halfway through the region schedule.
“We still have a lot of region to play,” said Johnson coach Phil Higgins. “This is just something we’ve got to get past.”
The Lady Knights had their shots, although many of the more promising chances were cut short by offsides penalties as Johnson tried to exploit West Hall’s high defensive line.
“They play defense high up, so we try to get a through ball and get our fastest players up top,” Higgins said. “But we had a few goal scoring opportunities cut off by the offsides.”
West Hall had experienced teams in Walnut Grove and Gainesville that had tried to do the same thing, so in the past two weeks the Lady Spartans have practiced the best way to defend such an attack.
“We look for the long kick and then we pull them offsides,” Mundy explained.
Of course, just practicing the defense couldn’t guarantee a shutout.
“They’re really tough,” said Lady Spartans senior Tania Perez, another of the team’s 11 seniors. “They’re a rival, so its pretty competitive.”
The Lady Knights kept it very competitive, and the final score in doubt, until the very end.
Johnson junior forward Brittany Martin, who had kept the West Hall defense on its toes through most of the first half, broke free of the defense three times in the last five minutes.
Each time it was West Hall’s final defender, two times Brooke Reed and once Elizabeth Gale, who made the play to keep Martin from a one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
Higgins said that his team’s loss was definitely not due to a lack of effort.
“I felt like the girls came to play, they had the passion for it,” the coach said. “And we had a lot of opportunities.”
Johnson took each of the game’s three corner kicks, but also received seven offsides calls.
Senior goalkeeper Alex Smith recorded the shutout for West Hall, saving eight shots on goal.
West Hall visits Oconee County at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, and Johnson hosts White County at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
JOHNSON BOYS 4, WEST HALL 3: Johnson’s Edgar Ochoa scored less than 20 seconds in and the Knights (7-1-2) jumped out to a 4-0 lead before the Spartans (4-5-1, 2-3) rallied with three goals in the final 20 minutes to give the Knights a scare.
“It was pretty good soccer except for a 15-18 minute period,” said Johnson coach Brian Shirley, who said he probably rotated in his bench players too early. “Maybe giving up three goals will open our eyes, allow us to focus more.”
The coach added that it was a game they couldn’t afford to lose with a number of tough opponents, including Gainesville (9-1, 6-0), still remaining on the schedule.
Shirley said that his goalkeeper, Joshua Martin, deserved much of the credit for stemming the West Hall tide with a couple of key saves late after allowing a pair of West Hall goals and an own goal.
“He came up big on a couple of occasions,” Shirley said. “It’s a great test for our character and our will.”
Caleb Fitzpatrick, Israel Azuarra and Jonathan Mendoza also scored for Johnson.
Johnson hosts White County at 7:30 p.m. Friday and West Hall travels to Oconee County at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.