The Stars and Battle Lions were having a feeling of déjà vu as they squared off at the Oakes. Rain came down thunderously, and lightning delayed the game. This was the second time weather had delayed games between the two teams. The weather finally relented, and both teams took the field ready to go.
The game started intensely as both teams looked to take an early lead. The Stars were able to start on the front foot and get on the board first. Santiago Hoyos, who is coming off a four-goal game against Jacksonville, was able to put away the first chance of the game. A ball was whipped in from a wide area by Gardner. Hoyos was in the right spot at the right time as the ball deflected and hit him in the stomach, kindly falling into the back of the net. The Stars were able to capitalize on a bit of luck.
Tallahassee struck back and looked to turn the tide of the match, attempting to repeat what they did the last time they visited the Oakes. They were able to pick up their first goal of the match through a fantastic strike from distance. Finding the top corner of the goal, there was nothing the Stars goalkeeper could do about it.
Tallahassee continued their pressure and found the back of the net a second time before the first half ended taking a 2-1 lead. The Battle Lions were able to drive into the Stars’ 18-yard box with ease before delivering an excellent finish across the face of the goal. The opposite corner was picked out excellently as the ball was driven low and hard.
The Battle Lions were growing in confidence going into halftime as their resiliency and mentality was on display again. It was the Stars turn to answer back. Some adjustments at halftime helped the Stars get back into the game and develop a foothold.
The Stars drew level, coming off an excellent run from Mason Walsh. He picked the ball up near midfield as he drove down the sideline before delivering a lofted ball towards the back post. Hoyos was on the end of the cross again, finding himself in a goalscoring position. Hoyos headed the ball back down towards the near post and was able to squeeze it by the Battle Lions goalkeeper.
The Stars looked to continue the pressure and take the lead back. Shortly after, they had another opportunity before being whistled for offside. Finally, the breakthrough came through an excellent piece of individual skill. Gabriel Villafane drove at the Battle Lions defense from a wide position. He cut inside and drove into the 18-yard box before firing a shot back across his body towards the near post. Villafane beat the Battle Lions goalkeeper as the Stars took a 3-2 lead.
The Battle Lions never backed down and continued to respond well. They created many good opportunities and made the game very difficult for the Stars. The Battle Lions showed their resiliency and quality as they pushed for an equalizer. Even though the equalizer never fell for them, you have to give the Battle Lions their respect for putting on an excellent display of soccer.
The Stars will return back home to the Oakes to play Pensacola FC on Saturday in the Gulf Coast Conference Final.
Photo Credit: Shedaina Dieuveille