Panthers keep rolling

LILBURN -- Entering downtown Lilburn, the sign says the home of champions. And Parkview's girls soccer team showed Saturday evening that it has every intention of keeping it that way.

The Panthers scored two goals early and then played steady defense to take a 3-0 win over Union Grove and advance to the semifinals of the Class AAAAA playoffs. Parkview will host Northview on Wednesday to reach the state title.

The defending state champions are on course to win a fourth consecutive title. But Parkview's veteran coach Judson Hamby knows it won't be easy.

"At this level, you take the win and move on," Hamby said. "It wasn't our sharpest performance but we got the win. During the playoffs, you play a lot of games with little time between them."

Hamby described Union Grove as a "scrappy" team with a defense that had allowed only one goal in it last 10 games heading into Saturday's match. Hamby's game plan was to spread the field to get scoring opportunities and it worked perfectly for the Panthers' first goal.

With everyone on offense spaced to perfection, junior KiKi Nelson took a crisp pass from fellow junior Alex Ober and thumped the ball with her left foot into the goal. The first score came with 29 minutes still to play in the first half.

Parkview wasted little time in getting its next goal when all-time leading scorer Kim Spence showed why she is headed to Auburn next year on a scholarship by taking a pass from Nelson and placing her kick perfectly into the upper left corner of the net. Suddenly, Parkview owned a 2-0 lead with 22 minutes still to play before halftime.

The Panthers frustrated Union Grove's offensive attack with two brilliant plays by goalkeeper Asha Wright highlighting the defensive effort. Wright, a 5-11 junior, made two acrobatic stops in the course of 30 seconds at about the eight minute mark before intermission.

The second half proved to be a defensive struggle as both teams battled. Parkview got consistent defensive performances from Maureen Buff and Kansas Bayly.

Parkview finally broke through with its third and final goal with only 4:15 left to play on a well timed header by Jarrett off a corner kick from Nelson. The kick had just the right distance and height for Jarrett to head the ball just over the outstretched arms of Union Grove goalkeeper Michaela Gardner, who played well the entire game.

"We tried to stretch them out but they are a scrappy team," Hamby said. "KiKi (Nelson) and Kim (Spence) played well and I think our two early goals helped us tremendously because they weren't used to being scored on in recent games."

Hamby, in his fourth season as the head coach of the girls team, seeks to keep his playoff success intact when Parkview hosts Northview on Wednesday.

Northview traveled to Tifton and defeated Tift County, 3-0, Saturday morning to earn its way into the semifinals.

"They are a very good team," Hamby said. "They are ranked fifth in the state and beat Tift County today."

Parkview's win improves its season record to 18-1-1.