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Wesleyan girls use shootout to advance in playoffs

ATLANTA -- Penalty kick shootouts have been good to Wesleyan's girls soccer team of late.

Goalkeeper Hannah Duane made sure it would be very good for the No. 9 state-ranked Wolves in their first-round game of the Class AA/A state playoffs against Westminster.

Duane made a huge save in the shootout following 25 stops in regulation and two overtime periods to help Wesleyan break a scoreless tie and come away with a 1-0 win over third-ranked Westminster on Friday night at Alfred E. Thompson Stadium.

Kenzie Stanford, Savannah Newman and Darby Coxhead all found the back of the net in the shootout as the Wolves (8-9) sent the game to penalty kicks for the fourth time in their last five games -- all wins -- and advanced to take on Athens Academy in next week's second round.

"You don't ever want to go to PKs (on purpose)," Wesleyan coach Lacy Gilbert said. "But we've been practicing PKs every day in practice this week -- mainly working on our placement. It's a lot of pressure, but I knew we could do it."

Much of that confidence also stemmed from the strong play of Duane, who got plenty of work.

However, Gilbert also employed a more defensive-minded strategy -- one very different from a 6-0 loss to Westminster (13-4) back in February.

The strategy worked well throughout the night, though Westminster began to generate better scoring chances throughout the evening, especially in the second half, when it played virtually the entire 40 minutes in Wesleyan territory.

"The second half, they started putting a lot of pressure on us," Gilbert said. "So, we dropped one of our forwards back into the midfield to help. We knew our opportunities were limited, but our goalkeeper played the game of her life."

Indeed, Duane made Wesleyan's defensive posture look even better, thwarting five different quality scoring chances by Westminster in the first 13 minutes of the final frame, the most impressive coming when she stonewalled Charlotte Butker in the game's 53rd minute.

"It was a team effort," Duane said. "The entire team has improved since our first game (with Westminster). They were a huge help (Friday) night."

Duane made a couple more saves in each of the two five-minute overtime periods before the shootout, and then really went to work after Carolyn Harris gave Westminster an early lead in the first round, only to be matched by Stanford's goal.

Butker tried to give Westminster the lead back, but Duane read the Wildcat junior's shot and moved easily to her left to make the save and put the pressure squarely on Westminster.

"All it is, is a mind game," Duane said of goalkeeping in a shootout. "You've got to get inside (the shooters') heads because they'll try to play mind games with you. But it really takes a load off your mind to make an early save."

Duane's mind was even more at ease when Newman gave the Wolves the shootout lead with her second-round goal and Coxhead made it a perfect 3-for-3 in the third round.

And Duane's second-round save may have given Wildcat shooters something to think about as both Catherine Johnston and Zoe Hayes sent their shots over the crossbar, sealing the victory for Wesleyan.