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Big week ahead for LHS soccer teams

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

The job isn’t done.

LaGrange High’s boys’ and girls’ soccer teams took giant steps toward winning region championships with their home wins over Cartersville on March 28.

Both games were decided in dramatic fashion.

LaGrange’s girls’ team won 3-2 in overtime, and LaGrange’s boys’ team prevailed 5-4 on penalty kicks.

While those were must-win games for both LaGrange teams in their quest to win a Region 5-AAAA title, they still have some work left to do heading into their final region games next week.

LaGrange will host Sandy Creek on Friday with the Region 5-AAAA titles on the line.

While both LaGrange teams are 5-0 in the region, Sandy Creek’s boys’ and girls’ teams will bring 4-1 region records into the game.

LaGrange’s teams have two tune-up games before taking on Sandy Creek.

LaGrange visits Pike County on Tuesday and hosts Brookstone on Thursday before Friday’s showdown with Sandy Creek.

Cartersville’s teams have already finished region play with 5-1 region records, so there is the potential for three-way atop the region standings.

For LaGrange, the picture is clear.

If LaGrange’s teams beat Sandy Creek, they will be the outright region champions.

Thanks to the hard-earned victories over Cartersville, LaGrange’s teams are playing for the region title, and not second place.

In the boys’ game, LaGrange scored in overtime to take a 4-3 lead, and Cartersville answered to tie it at 4-4.

Since it was still tied at the close of overtime, it went to penalty kicks.

Each team would get five penalty kicks, and the team that made the most of them would get the victory.

After three successful attempts by his teammates, Josue Recinos stepped up with an opportunity to provide the clinching goal.

Recinos knocked the ball into the back of the net, giving the Grangers the win, and setting off a raucous and well-deserved celebration on the field.

Butler Evans, LaGrange’s goal keeper, made two massive and clutch saves to give LaGrange the upper-hand during the penalty kicks.

Jimmy Cancino, John McDonald, Harrison Hunnicutt and Recinos made their penalty kicks to give LaGrange the win.

During regulation and overtime, LaGrange received goals from McDonald, Recinos, Winston Herrera and Robert Reese.

It was the Grangers’ third game in three days, and while the players may have been worn out, they persevered and found a way.

“We knew it was going to be handful, simply because it’s our third game in a row, and (Cartersville) hasn’t played in eight days,” LaGrange coach Shane Pulliam said. “They’ve had a while, and of course they have Pedro (Ghanem), who’s a game changer. But we kept finding a way, and to (Cartersville’s) credit they found a way to get back into it.”

In the end, while the journey to victory was a bumpy one, the Grangers did what they had to do.

“If you want to be a region champion, you have to beat a region champion,” Pulliam said.

Evans, a senior goal keeper, played a major role in the victory.

Evans didn’t play in the second half, but Pulliam decided he was the right man for the job when it came to penalty kicks.

“I told him in our huddle, you’re going to make two or three saves and you’re going to win it,” Pulliam said. “And he did.”

The Grangers, meanwhile, were perfect on their four penalty-kick attempts.

“We haven’t worked on (penalty kicks) at all,” Pulliam said. “I didn’t think we would see a game where we’d have to go to penalty kicks. So I looked up and I said, I need five guys that know they can stick the ball into the back of the net. They stepped up and did it.”

LaGrange began the week by beating Central-Carroll 6-1 at home, and it followed that up with a 2-1 road win over Cedartown.

LaGrange then took care of Cartersville to make it three wins in three days.

“It was three big wins, and they were all different kind of games,” Pulliam said. “It was three different styles we had to adjust to.”

Pulliam also felt the effort the players have put into the fitness program paid major dividends.

Last season, LaGrange went 5-1 in the region to finish second, with its lone loss coming to Cartersville.

Now, the Grangers are one victory away from a region title.

“We’re getting good performances out of these kids, and all the fitness stuff they’ve bought into that,” Pulliam said. “They don’t see it as a punishment. They’re coachable. When I come up with all this crazy stuff, they never questioned it.”

For the Lady Grangers, winning region titles is nothing new.

LaGrange has won back-to-back region championships, and it has won 17 consecutive region games dating to the 2017 season.

LaGrange was pushed to the limit by Cartersville. It was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, and Cartersville took the lead with a goal early in overtime.

LaGrange answered with goals from Caroline Thompson and Sydney Ormsby to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

Thompson scored the tying goal, and Ormsby provided the go-ahead goal a few minutes later.

“It was great,” said Thompson, who scored two goals. “We were at home, and we had to put on a show.”