Even though his name hasn't always shown up on the stat sheet, East Hamilton's Kyle Gallups has been involved in creating plenty of goals for the second-ranked Hurricanes' soccer team this season.
In Thursday's Region 3-A/AA championship match, Gallups twice found himself in position to be the player who finishes those opportunities, and the junior came through for his team both times.
Gallups scored two goals in the first 26 minutes against Boyd-Buchanan, and the Hurricanes went on to a 3-0 victory that puts them just one home win away from a return trip to the state tournament.
"Kyle is the kind of player who can play anywhere we need him," East Hamilton coach John Millard said. "That's a huge asset. He's a guy who creates a lot of opportunities for us, even if he isn't necessarily getting the goals or the assists. He just works so hard, and I'm glad that he was able to put two in today."
East Hamilton, the District 6 champion, and Boyd-Buchanan, the winner from District 5, combined to win their region semifinals by an 11-0 score Tuesday. On Thursday, East Hamilton got on the board quickly with an early goal from Jalen Goddard to Gallups, who finished a cross from Juan Flores in the 26th minute. That combination almost resulted in another goal about a minute later, but Gallups' hard shot went right at Bucs' keeper Luke Hedrick.
"We talked about our need to be patient," Millard said. "We said, let's create some good chances and finish them, and in the first half I think we did that. We had some quality chances, and we put two of them in the back of the net."
"It's really exciting to to defend the district and the region. We knew Boyd-Buchanan would show up and play very tough. They're athletic and aggressive, and with teams like that, it's all about how you respond. I think we responded pretty well for the most part."
Boyd-Buchanan, typically a dangerous offensive team, struggled to create its own quality opportunities in the first half, and the final shot count ended at 12-4 in favor of East Hamilton. Daniel Duk added a goal with about 15 minutes remaining in the championship match to make it 3-0, and the Hurricanes' defense recorded its eighth shutout of the season and third in a row.
"I'm extremely pleased with our backs for being organized and limiting their chances," Millard said. "Chase (Reed) is a player who can be very dangerous if he gets in open space, but I thought we did a good job keeping him under control. I'm proud of our guys for keeping the shutout. Our backs wear that as a kind of badge. They want a clean sheet for their keeper."
East Hamilton is now 16-1 and will host the loser of Thursday's Region 4 championship match in a Class A/AA state sectional on Saturday. The sectional winners advance to next week's state tournament in Murfreesboro, and the Hurricanes are hoping to make a second consecutive trip.
"We've been there once before, so they know what it's like," Millard said. "It's just exciting to be in a sectional, and to get to host it again. Whoever we play, we'll show up and be ready."
Boyd-Buchanan (15-4) will now try to regroup before going on the road Saturday to face the 4-A/AA champion.
"In the first half, we came out a little bit slow," Bucs coach Jacob Campbell said. "We played well, but not as well as we could have played. The first two goals were mental lapses, but those things are fixable. We told them they're a better team than how they played in the first half today. But right now it's all about Saturday. Whoever we play, we think we can go in and do what we need to do to make it to Murfreesboro."
(E-mail Jaime Barrett at email@example.com)