Wesleyan boys return to glory

NORCROSS -- Two goals barely two minutes apart early in the second half propelled the Wesleyan Wolves to a 3-0 quarterfinal victory over Pike County in the Class AA/A state playoffs Friday night.

Seniors Casey Ryan and Greg MacKenzie broke open a 0-0 deadlock after head coach Billy Coxhead talked to the team at halftime about not trying to do too much.

"I felt like sometimes in the first half, guys were swinging so hard, hoping to just hit a rocket into the upper 90 and they're hitting many of them over," Coxhead said. "It's like, don't try to force spectacular goals. Just be simple. If we possess the ball and pass it, we can get a good look."

The Wolves, led by MacKenzie, wasted little time making that a reality.

"We just needed to keep going after it," said MacKenzie, who also assisted on the Wolves' two other goals. "That (first) half was a win for them, the tie, because I think we had the better of the chances. I think they had momentum going into the half, so we had to come out hard in the second half."

The Wolves' effort earned them a trip to the Final Four for the first time since 2002 and another home game. Calhoun, which knocked off seventh-ranked Benedictine, comes to the Norcross private school Tuesday.

"It seems like it's been a long time," Coxhead said of the eight-year span between semifinal berths. "It's kind of created it's own aura. I refer to the '01 and '02 years -- we went to the Final Four two years in a row -- as the 'Glory Years.' It's become kind of a joke on the team.

"Now we can say we finally have another glory year. But I hope this year we're not stopping at the Final Four. We'd like to take it another step."

Wesleyan threatened early and often in the first 10 minutes. The Wolves were controlled and fluid in their passing, which created a number of excellent scoring chances. But they failed to finish and went into halftime scoreless.

"Pike County is very athletic," Coxhead said. "They have big, fast, strong players and they defended well. They made it very tough for us to score.

"We did have most of the possession, most of the opportunities, but trouble finishing. And I credit Pike County for that."

The Pirates got their first sustained pressure with about 15 minutes left in the first half and nearly bounced one home just before the buzzer. But Wesleyan goalkeeper Eric Sunderman got just enough of the shot to deflect it wide.

"He's been awesome all year," MacKenzie said of the sophomore keeper.

A quick strike just 2:48 into the second half regained the momentum for Wesleyan. MacKenzie, who had shot high on several scoring chances in the first half, danced in close and dished off a short pass to Ryan.

"That first goal between Greg and Casey was just a give-and-go," Coxhead said. "For half a second I thought Casey was going to swing hard and he didn't. He just pushed it in. That was a good, composed goal to start things off."

Getting the first made it a little easier to get the second.

"Pike County can't sit back and counter quite as much because they do need to score," Coxhead said. "So that does open things up a little bit. Then Austin Delk picks off a goal kick, had the good touch to find Greg on that second goal."

MacKenzie kept things rolling and didn't miss on his next chance a little over two minutes later. Off an assist from Chris Duvall, MacKenzie sent a shot rolling past Pike County keeper Zane Tyree in the 45th minute.