Darton freshman Alejandro Garcia played the hero in Saturday night's Region XVII semifinal by scoring on a free kick with less than 10 minutes left.
ALBANY — Alejandro Garcia called it the greatest moment of his life.
And it might have saved Darton’s season.
Garcia, a freshman from Coral Springs, Fla., lifted a free kick into the top left corner of the net in the closing minutes of Saturday night’s game and lifted the Darton men’s soccer team to a thrilling 1-0 victory against Wallace State (Ala.) in the Region XVII Tournament semifinals.
“It was the most amazing feeling I have ever had,” Garcia said. “I haven’t had a goal like that in a while. It meant something. It was an overwhelming feeling for me. As a freshman, it was something else. You expect that from a sophomore, but I had the chance and I took it.”
The goal, which came with 9:40 remaining in the game, kept Darton’s undefeated season alive and advanced the nationally-ranked No. 1 Cavs (16-0) to today’s region championship against South Georgia College at 2 p.m.
It was set up when Darton forward Jowayne Laidley drew a penalty just outside of the goalkeeper’s box, leading to Wallace State goalkeeper Jose Cedillo Rodriquez getting hit with a yellow card for batting the ball at a Darton player after the penalty.
With Rodriquez on the bench because of the yellow card, Garcia capitalized against backup goalkeeper Karson Nichols, leading to the first loss of the season for Wallace State (14-1-2).
With 6:08 remaining in the game, Rodriquez reentered and then was given a red card and ejected from the game after making contact with a Darton player. Rodriquez responded to the ejection by getting into the face of the official and pushing his teammates away as he was being restrained.
“I got hit, and I got spit on, but I kept my head,” Garcia said about the chippy atmosphere in the final 10 minutes.
With 12 seconds left, Wallace State sophomore Gabriel Queiroz was given a red card and ejected for throwing punches, but Darton coach Bart Sasnett said the physical play just comes with the territory of a playoff matchup.
“It’s one of those environments where it’s tournament time, and you are trying to get to a region championship,” Sasnett said.
Darton is trying to win its second straight region championship and return to the NJCAA national tournament, which will be held in Albany.