High School Sports

Halley steps up, leads Tigers to win

NAPLES - The play couldn't have been drawn up better. The execution couldn't have been smoother. The look couldn't have been clearer.

But Naples Golden Gate forgot to factor one important variable into the equation - the precocious goalkeeper, the one who you wouldn't know was a freshman unless you saw it listed next to his name on the program.

His name is Taylor Halley. And when Halley and the rest of the Palmetto Tigers beat host Golden Gate 2-1 during Tuesday's Class 4A-Region 3 boys soccer semifinals, he found himself in the middle of a boisterous pack of coaches and players.

It's the biggest win in program history, one that sends Palmetto (17-3-6) into a regional final against Tampa Jesuit, which the Tigers will host at 7 p.m. Friday. And it came thanks in large part to Halley, whose story is almost as wondrous as his performance Tuesday, when he collected 14 saves.

Halley is a forward by trade, and he hadn't stepped between the pipes for Palmetto until the Tigers' regional quarterfinal game last week against Haines City. Starting keeper Adam Danziger didn't play the past two games for unspecified reasons, and Palmetto's backup, Brandon Tarpley, is out with a hand injury.

That left Halley, who was huge Tuesday night. His diving stab stopped the Titans' first shot early in the first half, just as his slide and grab stuffed Cesar Juarez's offering midway through the second half.

And then came the exclamation point - a header by Daniel Gomez that a leaping Halley snatched out of the air during stoppage time.

"Another outstanding game," Palmetto coach Dustin Dahlquist said. "He's had two starts - two playoff games - (and) we're 2-0. . . . He can flat out play soccer - whether he's in the goal or whether he's up at forward."

All but four of Halley's saves came after halftime, including the stoning of Gomez.

"Luckily, he (hit) it right at me," Halley said.

Palmetto got on the board on Benicio Lara's goal less than six minutes into the first half. The Titans (16-3-4) tied it roughly 15 minutes later before Lara struck again, with this score coming after Golden Gate goalkeeper Vidal Segura fumbled a long shot off the foot of Eliud Saucedo.

That was all Halley needed.

"We had to play a little defensively to kind and try and help him," Dahlquist said. "But really, what he did, he helped out the defense. He saved them on a couple of times and made some great plays."

In doing so, Halley, who was told at Monday's practice he was starting, helped Palmetto become the first team this season to beat the Titans at home. More importantly, he helped the Tigers reach the regional finals for the first time in program history.

"That's big," Halley said.

Dahlquist, who doubles as Palmetto's athletic director, saw it coming.

"I said at the beginning of the season to our assistant principal. . . . 'If we don't make the regional final, I'm firing the coach,' " Dahlquist said. "We thought we had a team good enough to make it to this point. . . . We've played a lot of people this year, and yeah, this is what we expected.

"That's not arrogant or cocky - we were confident."