When the final whistle blew Wednesday night at Citizens Field, the Gainesville boys soccer team didn’t celebrate as much as breathe a sigh of relief that they were advancing to the regional semifinals.
The No. 2 seed Hurricanes (15-0-1) kept out of the loss column after surviving a furious second half rally from visiting Oakleaf (Orange Park) by staving off the Knights, 4-3, in a Class 6A Regional Quarterfinal contest.
Gainesville took a 4-0 halftime lead and looked like they would cruise to the next round in the state playoffs, but Oakleaf (10-4-1) increased its second half intensity and closed within 4-3 with 17 minutes to play.
“First half (Oakleaf) was pressing, but we did a good job handling the press, getting the ball out early and finding people, so we got opportunities and finished well,” said Gainesville coach Basil Benjamin. “In the second half, I think our urgency wasn’t there defensively and also offensively when we got the ball, we were holding onto it a little too long.”
Senior Isaac Gugel put the Hurricanes on the board first when he took a pass from senior Ryleigh Peyer and scored at the 35:15 mark.
The second goal came with 16:50 left in the first half when junior Daniel Brown put GHS up 2-0 on an assist from senior Colin Wycoff.
The Hurricanes went up 3-0 when senior Brendan Foley passed to freshman Dylan Fitzpatrick with 7:02 remaining, followed by another score at the 4:50 mark when Peyer scored off an assist from Gugel.
The second half witnessed a fired up Knights team that found the back of the net when sophomore Keinde May-Parker scored at the 37:24 mark.
Oakleaf closed within 4-2 when senior Akindele May-Parker scored with 24:25 left in the half. Akindele added another goal at the 20:25 mark.
“Usually, we’re not giving up three goals in a game, so it’s just our defensive urgency needs to get better,” Benjamin said. “But you have to hand to them, they came out with a good plan and they stuck to it and they got rewarded.”
Through the first 15 games of the season, Gainesville had allowed nine total goals and it marked the first time that an opposing team scored more than one goal against the Hurricanes’ defense.
“We’re happy obviously (advancing to the regional semifinals), but all the teams you’re going to face are good, just like these guys, so we just have to be ready to play every minute,” Benjamin said.
Gainesville will face No. 3 seed Gulf Breeze in the 6A Regional Semifinal round at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Citizens Field. Gulf Breeze defeated No. 7 seed Fleming Island, 4-1, on Wednesday.
Wednesday, Feb. 8 – Regional Quarterfinals
No. 2 Gainesville 4, No. 7 Oakleaf (Orange Park) 3
No. 1 Wakulla (Crawfordville) 3, No. 8 Eastside 0
No. 5 Bolles (Jacksonville) 5, No. 4 Williston 2
No. 4 Harvest Community (Jacksonville) 2, No. 5 Bell 0
Saturday, Feb. 11 – Regional Semifinals
No. 3 Gulf Breeze at No. 2 Gainesville, 7 p.m.