VALDOSTA –– A nippy Friday night on the pitch resulted in a hat trick for Valdosta High soccer.
The VHS boys team used a stellar defensive performance to defeat Lee County (7-2, 4-2) Region 1-6A) 2-0 to clinch its third straight Region 1-6A championship.
"It's all the kids," VHS boys soccer coach Roberto Carrillo said. "Last year, we didn't get to compete for one. The season got cut short due to COVID. This is three in a row for them. They wanted it bad. They knew they had to get it done. They wanted to go undefeated in the region for the first time since 2018. It's all the kids.
"I'm proud of their effort defensively. A lot of times teams get an early lead and then they just let the other team possess the whole game. We went out there, we possessed the ball, we had more opportunities. We only scored two, but I really felt we could've scored more."
The 'Cats (11-2-2, 6-0 Region 1-6A) sealed the game with 7:01 left in the second half as Antonio Zapeta took a cross by Hayden Coggins and knocked in the decisive goal.
According to Carrillo, the goal was not only a byproduct of diligent situational work in practice, but attention to detail on a flaw in Lee's defensive formation.
"Believe it or not, we work on it every single day at practice," Carrillo said of the late goal. "We work on trying to feed the wings and cross it to the back post because your defense really protects that near post. We try to go back post and that's one thing we saw Lee didn't do really good. They didn't protect that back post and when we have the ball on the left side, the right wing has to play that back post. Antonio did it perfectly and he scored a beautiful volley. That was probably the best goal we've had all year. It was beautiful."
Valdosta wasted no time getting on the scoreboard Friday.
The 'Cats got the ball into scoring position and forced a corner kick by Zapeta, who left the ball high for 6-foot-3 midfielder Delroy Mattis to use his height advantage on a header past the Trojans' goalkeeper to make it 1-0 just 38 seconds into the match.
Taking the early lead proved pivotal as the 'Cats consistently disrupted the Trojans' attempts to get shots on goal –– possessing the ball and being the aggressor, which Carrillo wanted from his team in the second half.
"Listen, we've had early leads throughout the year and we go into halftime with a lead and the second half is always us giving the ball up," Carrillo said. "I told them, we cannot defend. We've got to stay on it, we've got to press high and try to score our second one and put them out of it and we did great. This was, I feel like, the first complete game we've had all year and it came at the perfect time –– in the region championship."
For Valdosta, Friday's win was its ninth straight victory and its seventh shutout of the season.
As the team celebrated on the 'V" at midfield with the crowd cheering, the first thing Carrillo told his team is that they were not done yet.
Winning the region championship was just another box the 'Cats checked off as it looks to make noise in the Class 6A state playoffs.
"I told them, 'You play this for a reason,'" Carrillo said. "At the beginning of the year, we all set our reasons; our goals. Many of them, this was one of them. When we met a second ago, I told them, 'Alright, we've marked off region champs.' Next thing, they have a shot at tying or even breaking the school record for winningest season. That's one of our goals and then another thing –– we've never gotten past the second round, so they really want that third, fourth and fifth round."