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Special season ends for Grangers

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

GAINESVILLE – The LaGrange Grangers struck first, but it was East Hall capturing a 3-1 victory in a state-playoff soccer showdown on Wednesday night.

LaGrange surged to a 1-0 lead on a Caleb Kostial goal 12 minutes into the game, but East Hall rallied to take a 2-1

lead at the halftime break, and it added another goal in the second half to complete the scoring.

It was a disappointing ending to a fantastic season for the Grangers, who won the Region 2-AAAA championship with a perfect record before advancing to the final eight of the state playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.

“We had a great season, and these seniors will go away as basically almost three-time region champions in four years,” said LaGrange head coach Shane Pulliam.

The Grangers won region titles in 2019 and 2021, and they appeared headed toward one in 2020 as well when the season was canceled because of COVID-19.

One of the seniors is Kostial, and he gave the visiting team a spark when he scored with 28:50 left in the opening half.

East Hall’s goal keeper came out and deflected a corner kick by Tripp Hollstrom, and after Davis Knight and Jacob Rogers both made contact with the ball, an alert Kostial hammered it into the net from close range to give LaGrange the lead.

“To have a 1-0 lead against this team, it was amazing to have that feeling at that point and time,” Kostial said. “We had that momentum, but they’re a really good team.”

East Hall notched the tying goal with 19:10 to play in the half, and it came through with the go-ahead goal 15 minutes later.

Both of East Hall’s first-half goals, as well as its final goal, came on rebounds.

LaGrange’s Cason Blackburn made the initial stop on each of the goals, but East Hall’s players did an excellent job of following their shots.

“They know to follow up shots, and we stand and watch a lot,” Pulliam said. “They just follow shots. If you bobble it, they’re going to knock it in. Then when we had the opportunity to do that, we stood and watched it go by. That stuff at this level will kill you.”

The Grangers looked good at the start of the second half and had some solid scoring chances, but they were unable to convert.

With 15:14 to play, East Hall connected for a huge goal to take a 3-1 lead.

Blackburn made some nice saves after that to keep the deficit at two, and Ander Gay nearly connected from long distance with 2:22 to play.

The day ultimately belonged to East Hall, though, which advances to next week’s semifinals.

Davis Knight finished with two shot attempts for LaGrange, and Gay, Bryce Kuhn and Hollstrom had one shot apiece.

In the second half, Pulliam shifted some players around in an effort to create more opportunities.

“You try to change things up,” Pulliam said. “We went to four up top to try to create some pressure. It’s high-risk, high-reward when you do that. I was hoping we could get a goal, and then we could go back to normal. If we could have got one, we would have gone back to normal, and it would have gone back to a regular game. If you’re not taking shots by doing what you normally do, you have to do something different, otherwise we just would have set in and lost 2-1.”

After the game, the Grangers had one last post-game meeting, and there were hugs shared as the realization hit that the season was over.

For the seniors, the game marked the final time they would ever wear the LaGrange High uniform. Many of the seniors grew up playing soccer together, and for the past four or five years they’ve been teammates at LaGrange High.

In addition to the region titles, the seniors also helped LaGrange win state-playoff games in 2018, 2019 and 2021.

“We played soccer from U-9 to here,” Kostial said. “It’s been amazing growing up playing with these boys and seeing how far we could come.”

Kostial was appreciative of the support the team received from the home fans, including a group of LaGrange students who made their presence felt throughout the match.

“The fans did a lot of work,” Kostial said. “We appreciate them coming out.”