GAINESVILLE — Sunlake earned a trip to the state semifinals by defeating Gainesville Eastside in dramatic fashion, 2-1 in double overtime at Citizens’ Field in the 3A region final Tuesday night on Connor Spencer’s winning goal off a turnover at the 3:06 mark.
Both teams battled in a physical game that tested the will of every player.
“Eastside played really well … and it was a long day for us,” Sunlake coach Sam Koleduk said.
“It was rough to travel this far to play a good team … and we’ve been pulling wins out all year … and it’s been the story of the year for us. We had two of our starters go down … and to give up a goal with four seconds left and respond was awesome.”
The Seahawks (30-0) seemed poised to win in regulation, but an illegal hand touching penalty with four seconds left gave Eastside (22-3-2) a penalty kick. The Rams’ Tyler Miller-Jones ripped the shot past goalkeeper Daniel Hrenko (15 saves) to send the game into overtime.
In the first overtime, both teams played fast and physical and had chances to capitalize. Both teams had blasts wide and over the goal. Hrenko made four saves in the overtime.
In the second overtime, the Seahawks and Rams had chances, and a perfect Rams feed up the left side was just out of reach of Joseph Malu, as Hrenko scooped it up for the save to prevent the Rams from booting in the winner.
The game came to a close in the seventh minute of double overtime when a bad Eastside clear was taken by Spencer as he let a shot rip, and the ball deflected off Eastside defenseman Kim Mueller, finding its way into the back of the goal for the victory.
“It was a good game … and a well played game by Eastside,” Spencer said. “I took it, and it deflected in … and it was great thing for the team.
“One of us had to put it in to be able to celebrate … and it was well deserved … and we played solid defense.”
The first half was played at a fast-paced tempo by both teams, but the Seahawks struck the first blow. Spencer assisted on a beautiful cross-feed to junior midfielder Connor Kallenborn, who found the back of the net for a 1-0 advantage.
“I’m super proud of my boys,” Eastside coach Ron Messick said. “We had a good year … and we played a team that was 29-0 … and it felt like we dominated at times and had some chances.
“All it takes is one little mistake to lose a game. … if they were going to leave here with a win… they would have to earn every second.”