SARATOGA SPRINGS — Westlake's boys soccer team opened up the regular season Tuesday afternoon with a 4-3 overtime win over Hillcrest in Region 7. The Thunder may have sent the Huskies home licking their wounds, but it was the wind that stole the show in Saratoga Springs.
With the wind at their backs, the Huskies jumped out to a 1-0 lead just over eight minutes into the match when a short pass caught some added distance — surprising a Westlake defender and leaving an net open for an easy goal.
Westlake senior Dallin Giles pulled his team even with 10 minutes to play in the first half on a penalty kick following a yellow card on Hillcrest, much to the relief of Thunder head coach Dan Watkins.
“They’re a great team and responded every time,” Watkins said. “They got up on us and I was quite frankly, going back to the first half, I was just hoping to keep it 1-nothing or 1-1 going into the half — because of the wind. We knew the wind would help and we responded as well.”
The Thunder wasted no time, striking to open the second period on a 40-yard bomb by senior Christian Smith to take a 2-1 lead, only to have the Huskies pull even on another open-net goal.
“That was probably the best frontline we’ll see in region,” Watkins said. “They did a great job responding every time coming in clutch. Every time we scored a goal they came right back.”
Junior Mckinlee Bowman would end the regulation scoring for Westlake, giving the Thunder a 3-2 edge heading into the final 10 minutes of regulation. Four minutes later the Huskies answered yet again, scoring the equalizer to knot things up at 3-all. Westlake could not capitalize on a half-dozen chances in the final five minutes on a mix of corner kicks and throw-ins at the Huskies' end of the field, and the two teams separated to their sidelines to regroup.
Less than a minute into overtime, it was the Huskies that would seal their own fate on a golden "own goal" and hand the Thunder the victory.
Despite kicking into 40 mile-per-hour winds with a wind chill of 29 degrees, Westlake managed to overcome sailing passes long, full-powered clearouts turning 90 degrees out of bounds and the wind putting passes way off the mark to equal its number of region wins from a year ago.
“We only won one region game last year,” Watkins said. “We have a lot higher expectations than that this year though. We’ve matured and grown a lot and got a little experience under our belts, so one win isn’t enough. Winning a state championship is our goal.”