MURFREESBORO – The high-scoring Grace Christian Academy soccer team – led by eighth graders and freshmen last year – is back in the Class A state tournament a year older, more motivated and even more talented. The youthful Lions produced a similar result in the first round Tuesday, racing past Sweetwater for a 9-0 victory at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex.
Freshman Malachi Jones netted a hat trick and his brother and classmate, Levi, scored two more goals to lead GCA. Sophomores Alex Johnson and Sam Barrionuevo along with junior Charlie Koellein and freshman Shewit Worton all scored as well.
“We just were playing really well together out there today,” Barrionuevo said. “We decided we were just going to come out here and work our hardest and try to glorify God and play for each other.
“I think we did that.”
GCA has outscored its last seven opponents 58-5 and scored at least eight goals in six straight matches. The growing school near Leiper’s Fork earned a rematch with Signal Mountain in the semifinals Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Signal Mountain defeated GCA in the semis 1-0 last season.
“We actually had a little bit of nerves,” Lions coach David DeFatta said of entering Tuesday’s match. “The guys had kind of built this up over the last few weeks … and I think we saw that in the first five minutes or so. And then once we put one away it kind of calmed everything down.”
Johnson curved a corner kick into the goal in the 5th to trigger the offensive wave for GCA. Levi Jones followed with back-to-back tallies in the 9th and 16th with his second coming off a right-footed jab on a ball from Barrionuevo, who assisted on the next goal as well on a feed to Malachi Jones.
GCA collected 16 shots to Sweetwater’s 3 in the first 40 minutes.
“Last year was a first for us, but this year, you know, we weren’t focused on just trying to just make it here, we are trying to make it as far as we can with each other,” Barrionuevo said. “I think last year prepared us well, and we're ready to come out and play our hardest. We’re trying to make it as far as possible and this was a good start.”
Malachi Jones netted back-to-back goals like brother Levi in the 22nd and 29th. Barrionuevo fired a a rocket past the Sweetwater keeper in the 31st and Worton closed the scoring in the first half with a give-and-go run with Barrionuevo and Malachi Jones. It was 7-0 GCA at the break.
Gabriel Romero hit the crossbar in the 24th on a long free kick to produce the best scoring chance for the Wildcats. Sweetwater closed the season 16-5 overall.
Signal Mountain (17-3), the Lions semifinal opponent for the second season in a row, defeated Memphis Business (14-5) 7-0 in the first round Tuesday. The Eagles used their size to shutout GCA last season and reach the state final for the first time.
The other semifinal pits Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences against defending champion Gatlinburg-Pittman (17-3-1).