Photo by Christine Troyke
NORCROSS -- After a tight 1-0 win over Westminster last week in the opening round of the Class AA/A playoffs, Wesleyan's boys found their offensive stroke on Tuesday night with a 5-0 win over Hebron.
The win puts the Wolves (11-3-1) into the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002, where they will play Pike County at home on Friday.
The five goals were a big improvement over last week's single score, but the second shutout in a row came as a result of Wesleyan's second straight strong defensive effort, anchored by Will Ferrell in the back line.
"Their striker (Josh Manga) is a dangerous player and I had told Ferrell about him," Wesleyan head coach Billy Coxhead said. "He did a great job with him and kept him from getting positive touches around the goal. He did a standout job with him along with Jay Baker."
That defensive effort kept Hebron from launching any major scoring threats, getting off just one shot on goal that was easily saved by keeper Eric Sunderman.
Despite the final score, the majority of the first half was a tight affair. Wesleyan got on the board first in the game's 16th minute when Greg MacKenzie sent a pass across field to Jeffrey Lutton, who let it settle and put it in the top right corner for the 1-0 lead.
That lead looked like it would stand when the halftime horn sounded, but the Wolves broke through when Chris Duvall dribbled in from the left side of the box and was able to pull Hebron keeper Chris Foley out, leading to Duvall feeding Casey Ryan for a wide open goal with just 28 seconds left in the half.
That goal put Wesleyan up 2-0 at the break and gave the Wolves the push they were looking for, one that they were able to carry over into the second half.
"They put a lot of people back on defense and made it hard for us to score," Coxhead said. "To finish the end of the first half with a goal was huge. It gave us the momentum and forced Hebron to think offensively because when you're down 2-0 instead of 1-0, you can't think as much defensively."
Hebron (14-3-1) had been able to stay close in the first half with solid play from its back three of Aaron Lucas, Carter Hardin and Xavier Railey, but Ryan's goal turned the flow in favor of Wesleyan.
"That goal at the end of the first half kind of broke our back," Hebron head coach Bob Gardner said. "Down 2-0 is a big thing to overcome, especially against a good team like Wesleyan. That one really hurt."
The momentum from that goal carried over into the second half as Wesleyan's offense continued with its pressure, getting three more goals.
Duvall had the first of those just two minutes into the second half, while Alex Sierota headed in the next with just under 14 minutes left.
Lutton closed out the scoring with his second goal of the night with 11:43 remaining.
The loss for Hebron brought an end to a remarkable season, one that saw the Lions finish second in Area 16-AA/A, reaching the state playoffs for the first time in school history and winning their first playoff game last week, a 3-2 win on PKs over Union County.
"The turnaround from the last two seasons is amazing and I can't be more proud of these guys," Gardner said. "We were down the whole night but we never gave up and I am so proud of how these guys handled themselves. We only have two seniors on this year's team and we have high expectations for next year."