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West Hall girls soccer team rescues 1-1 tie with Flowery Branch
Beaulieu's penalty cancels out Wheat's strike in nonregion game
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Flowery Branch's Monica Scott runs alongside West Hall's Izabel Salgado as Salgado moves the ball downfield during Friday's game at West Hall High School. - photo by Erin O. Smith

When she concedes a goal early, Lucy Ibarra said she typically gets down on herself.

Her focus under pressure helped West Hall rescue a 1-1 draw against Flowery Branch Friday night, as well as the sophomore’s self-confidence in the net.

“I was expecting (to be down) 3-0,” she said, after pulling off nine saves against the Lady Falcons (3-3-2), who pelted the Lady Spartans with shots throughout the contest. “The forwards did so much for us, this whole team worked together so we could come back.”

Reachel Beaulieu converted the game-tying penalty in the 23rd minute after Flowery Branch’s Mara Wheat opened the scoring with a successful low shot past Ibarra soon after kickoff.

Katie Kirkland came agonizingly close to pulling out a winner for West Hall when her cross-cum-shot hit the crossbar with three minutes left to play. But the Lady Spartans (3-3-1) were happy to hold their nonregion foes to a draw that should send a message to West Hall’s fellow Region 7-AAA opponents.

“When we play our way, we’re hard to beat,” said Kirkland, a senior midfielder.

Flowery Branch, fresh off a close 3-2 loss to region rival Lanier, pressured West Hall’s flanks from the beginning.

The Lady Falcons rattled off five shots on goal in the opening 15 minutes, including shots by Halie Windish and Wheat.

Coach Katie Scali said she wants to use nonregion games to determine which players she can rely on in pressure situations.

“We’re trying to do different things,” she said. “There’s not one person who you could say is a star, so we have to find out who will step up and get dirty for us when it matters.”

Wheat made the early pressure pay in the ninth minute when she found herself open from 18 yards out and unleashed a booming shot into the bottom right of Ibarra’s goal to put the Lady Falcons up 1-0. From that point on, Ibarra was a rock in goal, picking up six straight saves to keep her team in contention.

“I knew we needed to keep it close,” she said. “When I let it in, I was like ‘Oh no, why did I do that?,’ but we had to keep going.”

Kirkland gave West Hall the chance it needed midway through the first half when her cross from the right wing caused Flowery Branch’s Reed McGuire to handle the ball in the box. Beaulieu stepped up and coolly dispatched the resulting penalty to equalize.

Following her third knee surgery in as many years, Beaulieu has been a consistent starter at striker for coach Adam Johnson’s West Hall team in her senior year.

“Time and again, if we’re looking for someone to step up, that’s Reachel,” Johnson said. “She kept begging me to put her up front, but she did well all over the field.”

But Ibarra earned her day in the sun by turning away two second-half efforts from Madeline McCarthy and Windish, who attacked West Hall’s left wing in the dying minutes. McCarthy’s effort, a 1-on-1 in the box, nearly turned the tide if not for the quick reactions of Ibarra coming off her line.

“It’s hard sometimes, because I panic when it’s 1-1,” said Ibarra. “I debate about whether or not to go out. But Coach told me that I should try to come out, to cut down on the angle they have.”

Kirkland was able to launch a rare West Hall counterattack with three minutes left, but her long-range effort skimmed the top of the goal. The Lady Spartans will host Lumpkin County (7-0-1, 2-0 7-AAA) in a region contest at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“I thought for sure that she had put it in,” Johnson said. “Katie gave us opportunities time and time again. (Ibarra’s) a phenomenal player, and the whole team really stepped up. This is probably one of our better games of the season.”

WEST HALL BOYS 2, FLOWERY BRANCH 0: A pair of goals by Sammy Coto pushed West Hall (4-1-2) to a win Friday night on a chilly Spartan Field in Oakwood.

The senior burst into the box in each half, slipping in shots on either side of Flowery Branch goalkeeper Cade Minton (three saves) to earn West Hall’s first nonregion win since Feb. 10.

Cesar Villa (two saves) earned the shutout against the Falcons (1-7), who have lost four straight games.

Coto first got on the score sheet when Simon Cobian slid in a slick through ball, allowing Coto to finish low to Minton’s left in the 23rd minute.

Richie Castruita had a chance to double the Spartans lead, but he skied his 50th minute penalty above the crossbar as temperatures dipped into the low 40s.

“It was a hard game to play in,” said Coto. “We always have a pretty major rivalry with Flowery Branch, so we were prepared to fight hard.”

Coto sealed the win with 19:25 to play when he brushed past two Flowery Branch defenders and slotted home a cool finish to the bottom right of the Falcons goal.

The Spartans will host Lumpkin County on Tuesday.

Following a 1-0 loss to rival Johnson and a 1-1 tie with Cross Keys within the last 10 days, Coto said the team is looking forward to getting back to the region slate.

“We needed it,” he said. “There have been times where we’ve been up, but we needed to finish, so it’s a relief to get this win.”

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