FLOWERY BRANCH -- Tim Gale says his team is still learning its way through the early part of the season.
If that is indeed the case, the West Hall boys soccer team might be downright scary by the end of the campaign.
The fifth-ranked Spartans looked far more than just a work-in-progress at Falcon Field, as they scored four first half goals over a five-minute span en route to a 5-2 win over Flowery Branch.
Make no mistake West Hall is not starting from scratch. The defending Region 7-AAA champs return plenty of talent from last year's second round playoff squad -- including Omar Castillo, who burned the Falcons for two goals and two assists in Friday -- but with a new head coach and a young season, the Spartans (4-1) are still experimenting a little before the 7-AAA campaign gets underway.
Gale certainly liked what he saw on Friday.
"It was good to get our team playing as it can play," said Gale, whose team was coming off its first defeat of the season, a 1-0 loss to Lanier on Tuesday. "We've got a long way to go, but we're getting better each game. Tonight we shifted another player into attack, and it worked."
Indeed -- though the Spartans had to show some mental fortitude before they could show off their attacking firepower after Flowery Branch caught the Spartans with a counter attack just four minutes into the contest.
Seconds after West Hall's Jordan Moreno drove the Spartans' first real shot off the Flowery Branch goal post, the Falcons sprinted up the right wing via Joey Brett, who crossed for Nick Biasi in the West Hall penalty area. Biasi made no mistake, burying a 12-yard shot into the West Hall net for a 1-0 lead with 35:37 left in the half.
The goal buoyed the home side, which fought bravely in defense throughout, but the Spartans regrouped and began to put Flowery Branch under consistent pressure -- which appeared ready to pay off when Simon Cobian earned a penalty kick after a foul in the area with 24 minutes left in the half. Yet Falcons goalkeeper Cade Minton proved up to the task, diving low and to his left to deny Cobian's attempt and preserve his team's lead.
West Hall's persistence finally turned into a goal flood just before the interval, however, and Castillo opened the dam with 8:47 remaining. The Spartans' captain pounced on a Flowery Branch defensive error, running on to a fluffed clearance attempt before slamming a 16-yard shot past a stranded Minton to knot the score.
Less than two minutes later, Castillo put the visitors in front. This time the West Hall attacker made the goal almost single-handedly, running on to a deep, angled cross in the Flowery Branch penalty area and cutting back into the middle -- beating two defenders in the process -- before burying an 18-yard shot into the top corner for a 2-1 score.
Cesar Villa and Samuel Coto rounded out the late surge for West Hall, Villa poking a cross from Castillo into the net from close range, before Coto almost literally copied Villa's strike for a 4-1 halftime advantage.
"We've been getting chances all season," Gale said. "And it was good to see us taking them tonight."
Flowery Branch (2-2) tried to force its way back into the contest after the interval -- and West Hall gave the Falcons some help, as a miscommunication in defense turned a Brett free kick into a Spartans own-goal just two minutes after the restart.
Yet West Hall's monopoly of possession ensured that the Falcons could not build on the strike, and the Spartans put the contest out of reach when Ramsis Martinez curled a perfectly-weighted, 18-yard shot into the Flowery Branch goal for a 5-2 advantage.
"With all the weather issues so far it's been hard for us to get going, but we're finally coming together," Gale said. "We've got three big non-region games next week, so that will continue the building process for us, hopefully."
The Spartans will travel to Johns Creek on Tuesday and North Forsyth on Wednesday before playing host to Gainesville on Friday.
Flowery Branch, meanwhile, will look to bounce back against Johnson on Saturday at home. The boys contest will follow the girls game, which will begin at 4 p.m.