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Eagles avenge loss to Walton with win on PKs

SUWANEE - It was 363 days earlier, against the same opponent, that the Collins Hill soccer players endured the ultimate heartbreak.

A state championship game loss on a 78th minute own goal.

The Eagles teetered on the brink of similar pain Thursday night when their rematch with Walton went to penalty kicks. Instead they put the agony on the visiting Raiders.

No. 1 Collins Hill was perfect during the penalty-kick rounds and senior goalkeeper Andrew Wallingford made a clutch, clinching save in the Eagles' 1-0 victory (7-6 on PKs) in the Class AAAAA semifinals. They move on to play at No. 2 Centennial on Saturday night in the finals.

"I feel for (Walton)," Collins Hill coach Stan Carpenter said. "That was good from both sides. But we had perfect shooters. It's hard to make all those kicks.

"And our keeper just came up with one big (save)."

Wallingford's second-biggest save came at the end of regulation, when he made a diving stop of a Walton header just a split-second before the final horn sounded. It was a rare good look at a goal in a game dominated by the defenses - the Raiders had a small 5-4 edge in shots.

The Collins Hill goalie had a chance to be the hero again later, though.

Collins Hill rolled through the first six rounds with PKs as Nicky MacKain, Ricardo Ortega, Brady O'Brien, Juan Hurtado, Malcolm Miller and Dominic Bonilla made their shots.

Bonilla's shot followed a close call when Wallingford got a foot on a shot by Walton's Holden Fender but the ball had enough steam to roll in.

The Raiders' Matt Shreiner opened the seventh round with a low PK that Wallingford snuffed out with a dive to his left. His teammates and the home crowd erupted.

"After that last save, I was ecstatic," Wallingford said. "There are no words to explain it. I couldn't have done it without my team though. Everybody scored (their PK) and did what they had to do to win."

It wasn't over though. Collins Hill needed a clincher and Carpenter turned to senior leader Juan Giraldo.

"Juan, he doesn't like PKs," Carpenter said. "But I asked him, 'You want to be a leader?' That's tough. You're taking it."

Giraldo didn't leave any doubt, sending home the game-winning PK and racing to join his teammates in a raucous celebration. Collins Hill's large student section joined them.

"I was just happy, man, happy," Giraldo said of his reaction. "It's my senior year. We've all worked hard and we've had a great year."

Walton (14-3) entered the game having allowed only seven goals all season, and its defense was stout. But Collins Hill (18-3) also was up to the task with its back line led by MacKain, Jonathan Nelson, O'Brien and Nick Lane.

They helped the Eagles hang tough in another thriller with Walton. But this time they finished on top.

"This was fun," Wallingford said. "It's the first time we've ever beaten Walton. This is pretty big time for us."