SAVANNAH -- The North Hall boys soccer team is putting together the kind of season that equals and breaks records -- and the Trojans did both on Saturday.
North Hall traveled to Savannah and played its way into the Class AAA semifinals courtesy a 5-3 defeat of Islands High, the outcome pushing the Trojans into the final four for the first time in almost 20 years.
"They believe; they know they can beat anybody in the state on any given night," North Hall coach Jonathan Lillie said. "They're very excited, and they're ready for Tuesday."
The win moved the Trojans into Tuesday's semifinal showdown at St. Pius -- a team that just escaped Region 7-AAA foe Dawson County in the second round via a marathon penalty shootout.
"There's no doubt our region (7-AAA) is the best in the state, and the results bear that out," said Lillie, whose team joins fellow 7-AAA team West Hall in the semifinals (the Spartans are on the other side of the bracket and will face Oconee County in Tuesday's other Class AAA semifinal). "We may be a four seed, but the guys know that they're not a real four seed because of how hard our region is."
Saturday's victory -- North Hall's third on the road this postseason -- also saw striker Junior Avalos bag a hat trick that helped him add to his tally as the program's all-time leading goal-scorer.
Avalos, a junior, scored two goals in the first half to help the Trojans (14-4-1) to a 3-1 lead and then broke a 3-3 deadlock in the second half with his final strike to tally his 45th career goal. Avalos has surpassed former North Hall standout Brian Hall's career tally (who played in the early 1990s).
"The great thing is that we've got 13 guys on this team with at least one goal and one assist; Junior is a great player, but we've got three-four guys with 10-plus goals," Lillie said. "We're a complete team. The guys work hard for each other, and they're unselfish. It all comes down to character for us."
Enrique Casterjon and Jake Stephens also scored in the game, Casterjon's goal making it 3-1 in the first half and Stephens' penalty kick strike making it 5-3 in the second half, sealing the contest with five minutes remaining.
Avalos got things going, scoring twice in the first half to help North Hall to a 3-1 lead -- but Islands (13-6-2) made the most of a consistent wind at its collective back, scoring two goals on long-ball headers to knot the game at 3-3.
North Hall responded with Avalos' third and final goal, as the junior met Abraham Salvador's corner kick to put the visitors ahead for good at 4-3.
Jake Carter helped make sure of the victory, drawing the penalty kick from Islands with five minutes remaining -- an opportunity that Stephens buried.
Carter finished the game with two assists, as did Jairo Barrientos. Avalos also had one assist.