It was a defensive battle, and although West Hall’s boys soccer team had a number of chances to score, the Spartans couldn’t capitalize in a 2-0 loss to Oconee County in the second round of the Class AAA state tournament on Wednesday in Oakwood.
“We found moments of momentum, especially at the end of the first half, where we were really knocking on the door,” said head coach Andrew McCain. “We changed our configuration, and I felt really good, actually, when we went to the field house.”
Oconee County’s Jimmy Parker found the net less than three minutes into the game to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead and scored again with less than 10 minutes until halftime to put Oconee County up by a pair.
“I really thought we were going to come back,” McCain said. “We just never found the groove.”
West Hall goalkeeper Frankie Vazquez made a series of game-changing saves throughout the match that prevented a larger goal deficit, but despite his game, it certainly wasn’t the ending he hoped for to cap off his high-school career.
“The season was what we expected; just not where we expected to finish,” Vazquez said. “We didn’t want it to end like this. We had our chances; we just couldn’t finish.”
The team’s accomplishments do not go unnoticed by players and coaches, but Vazquez and sophomore Ronald Portillo agree that the biggest part of this season was the team itself.
“Being region champs is awesome, it really is,” Vazquez said, “But I think what helped us out most was the chemistry of the team.”
Portillo noted that this year’s team had a stronger work ethic and better communication than some teams in the past.
“It was teamwork,” he said. “Everybody working together, talking it out and working hard every day. Everyone worked really hard to get this far.
“This year, we gave it more heart than last year. We gave it all we had.”
The seniors on this West Hall team know about teamwork and chemistry, and they hope the teams in the future can find the same qualities in order to be successful.
“All the seniors, we’ve been playing together since we were freshmen,” Vazquez said. “We’ve all played here and out somewhere else, so we know each other very well, and we know how each one of us plays.”
McCain believes next season’s Spartans can find the same kind of bond because of the talent of the players and the large group of underclassmen that will return to the team.
“We’ve got a very strong sophomore showing that will be our core next year, so it looks like we’re going to have a very good team next year,” McCain said. “We’re going to have so many young players who are veterans.”
Portillo looks forward to next season with McCain in his second year as coach because of what the team was able to do this season.
“Next year is going to be a different year, so I just hope we get even better,” he said.