Wolves hold on for historic win

NORCROSS -- By unseating Greater Atlanta Christian as Area 11 champions, Wesleyan received a home match in the first round of the Class AA/A boys state soccer tournament.

Being a top seed didn't give the Wolves an easy opponent, though. In fact, just the opposite.

Wesleyan came into Thursday night's opening-round match ranked No. 4. But visiting Westminster was No. 7.

"I'm sorry it had to be in the first round," Wolves coach Billy Coxhead said of the pairing.

Wesleyan, however, proved up to the challenge, edging Westminster 1-0 to move onto the second round for the first time in nearly a decade.

Casey Ryan scored midway through in the second half off a nice feed from Austin Delk and keeper Eric Sunderman made the one-goal lead hold up.

Twice inside the final three minutes, Westminster had point-blank shots. Sunderman, though, was up to the challenge each time.

Then the sophomore grabbed a throw-in just in front of the goal line during a final-seconds scramble to preserve the victory and set up a celebration at midfield.

"What a battle," Coxhead said. "It was a great game and a great win for us. ... Westminster has a very good team."

The Wildcats (11-6-1) controlled the first half, with Wesleyan (10-3-1) fighting not to fall behind.

"They had us on the run," Coxhead said. "We were fortunate to be tied at halftime."

It remained that way until about the 20-minute mark of the second half, when Delk created a play and fed fellow senior Ryan with a nice ground pass in the box.

"It's definitely not something we work on, but I saw the play coming," said Ryan, who beat Westminster keeper Andrew Freschi for his ninth goal of the season. "It was a perfect pass."

But once Wesleyan got a goal, it hardly meant that the match was over. Far from it.

Westminster, the No. 2 seed from tough Area 12, kept putting on the pressure in a frantic attempt to tie the match.

"They pounded our net after we got the lead," Coxhead said. "Eric made at least two great saves."

"You don't have much time to react," said Sunderman, a sophomore. "But I thought they'd shoot low and that's what they did."

As a No. 2 seed last year, Wesleyan had to go on the road in the first round and lost 1-0 at Union County in a game that left a bad taste.

"It feels great to get past the first round," Ryan said. "Last year was a very tough loss."

Now the Wolves won't get another shot at Union County, which lost to Hebron Christian 3-2 on penalty kicks. The second-round match with fellow Gwinnett private school Hebron is next for Tuesday at Wesleyan.

"It's always better to be at home," Ryan said.

"I'm just happy to make it past Westminster," Sunderman said. "This feels amazing. It's been a long time since Wesleyan made it to the second round."