May 1, 2014

State soccer: North Hall gets better of North Murray

Through 80 minutes in Thursday’s Class 3A first round state playoff match, neither North Hall nor North Murray could generate much in the way of offense.

By the time the extra 10 minutes of overtime were done, North Hall had done just enough.

Junior Avalos scored on a backside header past North Murray keeper Manuel Gonzalez in the first overtime period, and the Trojans’ patient passing offensive strategy paid off for a 1-0 win over the Mountaineers.

North Hall, the No. 4 seed from powerful Region 7 and the No. 5-ranked team in Class 3A according to, advanced to the second round and travels to play the winner of Blessed Trinity and North Oconee. North Murray, the winner of three straight region titles, ends its season with a 14-3 record after the school’s first loss in the first round.

The Trojans (12-4-1) used crisp passing throughout the game to keep North Murray from being able to generate any offense off mistakes. Using the full dimensions of North Murray’s regulation-size turf field, North Hall was able to control much of the flow of action. And even if the Trojans weren’t able to generate many offensive looks because of North Murray packing its defense, controlling the action kept the Mountaineers off the scoreboard as well.

“We knew they would settle on defense and err on the side of defense, and we knew we had to break them down,” North Hall coach Jonathan Lillie said. “I felt like with the width of the field that they have here, we could possess the ball on the outer edges and it wouldn’t be too risky. We finally got through once, and one is all you need.”

It was apparent that scoring would be at a premium midway through the second half when the teams had combined for just four shots on goal. Neither Gonzalez nor North Hall keeper Juan Jimenez were put under severe pressure, but each had saves down the stretch through the end of regulation that kept the match scoreless.

Lillie said the slow start on offense was a combination of North Murray’s gameplan and playoff jitters.

“The first half, it was just nerves. We didn’t play how I know we can play,” he said. “It is hard to come off of a two-hour bus ride and not have some kind of an effect. But the guys really listened to what we had to say at the half and they executed. We weren’t being risky enough and we were being too conservative. We didn’t play with a lot of pace and were over-thinking. The second half, they got over that.”

North Murray coach Matt Chambers said both teams executed their game plans well but said North Hall played the game more consistently.

“All credit to them, North Hall played a great game,” Chambers said. “We had our moments of attack and teamwork, but then we had moments when we weren’t in the right position. It wasn’t consistent all the way through, and that is what killed us.”

North Hall finished with seven shots on goal, while North Murray had just three.

The Trojans finally scored when Enrique Castrejon dribbled deep down the left wing, and his cross over Gonzalez found Avalos at the far post. Later in the final two minutes of the overtime, Avalos was able to stop the same play by North Murray and clear the ball away. That was the last good opportunity for the Mountaineers.

Chambers said Thursday’s finish to the season can’t erase the accomplishments of the last four years for this group and its 15 seniors.

“It is very disappointing, but overall I am super proud of this group and you can’t let one game define your legacy,” Chambers said. “This is the group of guys that I started with here, and they have won so many more games than they have lost. Today doesn’t define us or these players. They should rightfully be proud of the entire body of work they produced here.”

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