Spain Park boys soccer team wins first state championship in school history

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

HUNTSVILLE – For 17 years, Spain Park’s Matt Hall has been on the coaching staff for the Jaguars’ soccer team, but when he took over as the head coach in 2014, he never imagined what was going to happen seven years later on Saturday, May 8.

Standing beside his team near midfield, he walked toward AHSAA Director Steve Savarese and grabbed the Class 7A State Championship trophy, which he calmly took and then turned to his team, who came and ripped it from his hands and started jumping around in celebration after winning the school’s first-ever championship.

“I’ve been here a long time. The support has been great and awesome,” Hall said trying to hold back tears. “I’ve been working with kids a long time, and through soccer and sports, you try to teach the kids sportsmanship and we have alumni that still contact us. This is such a great state with great players, so it just means so much to finally reach the top height to bring the first state soccer title for the guys in school history is awesome.”

The Jaguars took the title in a 2-1 victory against Davidson behind a first-half goal from Seth Walter and second-half goal from Shea Tillette and overcame losing starting goalie Chase Tilashalski to complete history.

“It’s just a blessing from God. I’m kind of at a loss of words,” said MVP Anderson Ivey after the win. “I’m just so glad I could do it with this team my senior year. It’s the first in school history, so people are going to remember it for a really long time.”

In the first 30 seconds of the game, the Jaguars set the tone by taking the opening kickoff and getting all the way into the goalie box before the ball deflected out of play off a Spain Park player to just miss on an early opportunity.

Davidson had its chances in the first half, especially in the first 10 minutes, as the two teams battled up and down the field in an up tempo fight for the lead.

The Warriors earned one of their best chances of the first half with 26:35 to play, but Spain Park keeper Chase Tilashalski made not one but two saves after catching a rebounded shot to keep the game scoreless.

That’s when the Jags capitalized.

Two minutes later, Bryce Burdette found himself sprinting up the field with the ball with teammate Seth Walter 10 yards in front of him. Burdette placed a perfect pass to Walter in full sprint, who kicked it off the pass and slid it between the goalie and post for a goal.

That gave the Jags a 1-0 lead with 24 minutes to go in the opening half.

“It takes a lot of pressure off, when Seth put the first one in. It almost makes you play a little more comfortable in what you can do,” Hall said. “I’d always rather play with a lead than come from behind, even though we have done well from behind. It allows you to get into your game easier.”

From there, Spain Park controlled much of the half, but Davidson got a great chance at the equalizer on a penalty kick following a foul in the penalty box.

Not only did Tilashalski guess right, but the ball missed wide left as the Jags caught a huge break to take a 1-0 lead into the half.

Spain Park continued its attack mode early in the second half, which led to a free kick just outside of the penalty box from Shea Tillette.

The senior lined up the kick, took it right over a wall of four defenders just a few yards in front of him and bent it across the keeper to fall into the left side of the net for a 2-0 lead with 31 minutes to play.

Just a few minutes later, however, the Jaguars faced some adversity when Tilashalski went down with an injury at the 27-minute mark.

That sent in sophomore Trey Elliot for the remainder of the game.

Elliott was tested quickly with a corner kick, but the ball was eventually cleared, while he then made another great save shortly after.

But Russellville started pressing with Spain Park now up by two goals in the second half of the championship game.

Davidson finally capitalized on the constant pressure when they scored to get within a goal with 15:30 to play in the game.

The Warriors tested the Jags the rest of the way, but Spain Park continued to push the ball up field every chance it got, which ate time off the clock.

That ended up paying off, as a team that won three one-goal playoff matches in each round of the postseason coming into the title game, finished off one last one-goal win to. This time, school history was on the other side.

“Honestly, we were in bunker mode just trying to get the ball out at the end. I knew they had the ability to put one in and tie it up, but the heart and competitiveness of this group and team, the way the guys have played all playoffs, this group just found ways to get it done every step of the way,” Hall said of the special effort.

Spain Park finished the season 18-1-3 with the lone loss coming to Hoover, who they beat 2-1 in the semifinals to earn a spot in the championship game.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.