East Hamilton tops Howard in region semifinal soccer showdown

East Hamilton tops Howard in region semifinal soccer showdown

May 14th, 2019 by Patrick MacCoon in Sports - Preps

Howard senior Yefri Mendes Baltazar scores on a penalty kick in the 58th minute against East Hamilton in a Region 4-AA semifinal Tuesday night. The Hustlin' Tigers fell 2-1 to the Hurricanes.

Photo by Patrick MacCoon /Times Free Press.

East Hamilton senior captain Brandon White (14) scored on a beautiful free kick in the first half to help lead a 2-1 Region 4-AA semifinal victory over Howard on Tuesday. The Hurricanes will travel to face Sequoyah in the region final Thursday.

East Hamilton senior captain Brandon White (14) scored...

Photo by Patrick MacCoon /Times Free Press.

With a potential one-on-one opportunity ahead of Hank Smallwood, his unselfish decision to tap the soccer ball back to Alen Karajic let East Hamilton live to fight another day.

A back-and-forth connection between Karajic and Smallwood ended with the tallest player on the field scoring the decisive goal in the 64th minute of a 2-1 win over Howard in the Region 4-AA semifinals at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's intramural complex.

"We have preached all season about being a good teammate and family member," Hurricanes coach Patrick Daverson said after Tuesday's close triumph. "All of our guys are reaching for the same goal. Our guys support each other, and that was a great unselfish play at the top of the box."

In the closing minutes it was also the play of East Hamilton's Juan Gomez that kept possession away from a speedy and dangerous Hustlin' Tigers group led by dynamic senior scorers Yefri Mendes Baltazar and Neyder Gonzalez.

Howard (12-4-2) outshot its opponent and tied the game in the 58th minute off Mendes Baltazar's penalty kick but had its season fall just short of a second straight state tournament berth.

"Yefri and Neyder were the heart of this team and carried us the whole season," first-year Tigers coach Jose Otero said. "We faced adversity this year because we didn't have a home field to play on. But we are grateful to all those who helped us like UTC and Highland Park Commons."

The Hurricanes (11-6-2) once again flashed their strength in the air as they towered above their opponents, whose top strength was their speed.

Senior captain Brandon White made a highlight play to give East Hamilton a great deal of momentum early.

White bent a free kick from over 30 yards out that hooked in to the top left corner of the net for a quick lead just 11 minutes into play. The all-around playmaker was a decisive force in controlling the ball in the midfield and also made strong clearances on defense.

With a region championship battle and third meeting with Sequoyah set for this Thursday in Madisonville at 5 p.m., there is a strong belief East Hamilton can make history.

"We all have compatibility and the willingness to work hard for each other," White said. "We have nine seniors, and we are all working to help each other keep playing. Everyone has done a great job to get us this far, and we are not done yet."

The Hurricanes fell 2-1 to Sequoyah in the District 7-AA championship match, after they beat the Chiefs 3-2 on the road in the regular season.

Howard was a district champion for the third year in a row this season and looks to have a strong squad next year as well.

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.