RABBITTOWN — Despite five freshmen starters, the East Hall boys soccer team stood just 80 minutes from a third consecutive Final Four appearance.
A more opportunistic Windsor Forest squad had its own plans, however.
The Knights got a penalty kick goal in the waning moments of the first half, took advantage of a Vikings defensive breakdown midway through the second and then held on for a 2-0 victory Saturday at East Hall Stadium in the Class 3A quarterfinals.
The frustration on the face of Vikings coach Chris Horton afterwards told the story.
“We had a bunch of chances but we couldn’t finish and find the net,” he said after watching the Vikings pile up 22 shots to just 7 for Windsor Forest, as well as 6 corner kicks to just 2 for the Knights . "It was frustrating."
Once the Knights netted their second goal with 29 minutes left, they created a veritable stone wall in their own end. They held East Hall to just 2 shots over the final 23 minutes and just one in the final 15 minutes.
Junior Sergio Turcios, who created more than a half dozen scoring chances in the first half, touched the ball just three times over the final 20 minutes with no shots.
“Definitely missed opportunities,” Horton restated. “After they got that second goal they just kept pushing back. We feel like we outplayed them but we couldn’t get anything to go in.”
East Hall’s best chance of the second half came in the 45th minute when a Turcios bent a direct free kick from just outside the box onto the crossbar. The Vikings had two other chances late on bouncing balls in the box but could not manufacture a shot.
Vikings keeper Oscar Rosas kept his team in the game with a clutch kick save off a Windsor breakaway to keep it a one-goal game with 29 minutes left.
Four minutes later Carlos Pulido was taken down just outside box giving East Hall a direct kick from 25-yards. Two blocked shots led to a wild sequence where Windsor keeper Jonathan Ramirez was caught out of position, but Turcios was called for a foul as he was lining up a shot into an open net.
The Knights (16-1-1) sealed it less than two minutes later when Ali Muhammadi gathered in a loose ball in the Vikings box and buried a 15-yard shot past a diving Rosas for the 2-0 lead.
The Vikings (14-3-3) dominated the action for most of what would become a frustrating first half. They had a 2-to-1 time of possession advantage and generated 15 shots to just 4 for Windsor Forest. East Hall had 4 corners to just 1 for the Knights.
Ramirez kept the Knights in the game in the mid part of the first half stoning East Hall shot-makers for six key saves, three from inside the box. He managed to keep East Hall off the board until the Knights’ offense generated the best scoring chance of the half when Erik Ulloa was taken down inside the box with just 1:08 left in the half after a nifty shake-and-bake move through two East Hall defenders.
Ulloa was able to beat Rosas for the penalty kick goal and give the Knights a 1-0 lead heading into the intermission.
Windsor Forest came out strong to open the first half and the Knights controlled the ball for most of the first three minutes behind, Ulloa, who just missed left of the goal on a blast through blockers in the 3rd minute.
The Vikings began to find their legs around the 6-minute mark behind Turcios. Turcios ignited things with a nice counter run and give to Freddy Rebollar, who just missed high on 25-yard blast in the 6th minute.
In the 10th minute Turcios lofted an inviting flick pass to Maury Ibarra, who just missed on a bouncing shot from 5-yards out.
East Hall continued to press the action, generating five more shots in a three-minute span but could not get anything past Ramirez.
Ibarra and Turcios executed a perfect give-and-go with Ibarra being denied by Ramirez from 10-yards in the 21st minute.
The Knights nearly grabbed the lead midway through the half when Johan Anguiano had a nifty move and run down the right side that ended with a point-blank range shot that Rosas denied with a leg kick in the 25th minute.
Another Turcios run eight minutes later resulted in a foul and direct kick from 5-yards outside box but the shot was blocked.
It appeared the teams would head to the half scoreless until the Knights got the key break.
“This group I thought is good enough to still be playing, but they had a solid season and for a young team made a nice (playoff) run,” Horton said. “It’s disappointing, of course, to have things end when you feel you played well enough to win. But we’ll learn from it and come back better next year.”