Wolves' 4-0 win earns them first title shot

NORCROSS — Wesleyan head coach Billy Coxhead made an interesting statement to his team during his postgame talk.

"We'll practice two more times this week," Coxhead said. "That's the first time in my career I can say for sure that we only have two practices left."

The reason for the two practices is that top-ranked Wesleyan has just one more game left on it's schedule. But that one game is the one every coach and player hopes for: a state championship game.

The right to play in that game came as a result of Tuesday night's 4-0 win over Calhoun in the Class AA/A state soccer semifinals, putting Wesleyan in the title game for the first time in school history.

Much like last week in the quarterfinals against Pike County, Wesleyan (13-3-1) had several good looks in the first half but couldn't capitalize, leading to a 0-0 tie at the half.

That same thing happened Tuesday against Calhoun, one of the hottest teams in the state entering the playoffs as winners of 10 straight. Wesleyan held a huge 8-1 advantage in shots on goal in the first 40 minutes — including several from point-blank range — but the Yellow Jacket's bend-but-don't-break style held up.

Then Casey Ryan's goal six minutes into the second half opened up the gates, leading to three more balls in the net in the second half.

"I have a sense of relief to have survived Calhoun," Coxhead said. "They've got a good team. We had a slow first half and I thought that if they scored, they would get the momentum. That same thing happened last week.

"Somehow, we're a second-half team and I don't know why. That first goal always seems to open us up."

Calhoun (16-3) also played a different defensive scheme with a sweeper playing deeper than any other team Wesleyan had faced, resulting in 10 offsides.

That frustrated Wesleyan on offense, especially in the first half, but the adjustments made by Coxhead in the second half paid off.

Greg MacKenzie of Wesleyan made the most of those adjustments and had a hand in three of the four goals, assisting the first two, while scoring the third.

"I don't know what it is," MacKenzie said about his team's first-half scoring troubles. "We just can't seem to finish our chances in the first half. To finally get scoring is a relief because soccer is such a low-scoring game. It seems easier when we do and it helps us get the momentum."

MacKenzie's second assist came eight minutes after his first one when he hit Jeffrey Lutton up the middle near the top of the box, allowing Lutton to work open for the scoring shot with 21:07 left to play.

The score went to 3-0 just four minutes later when MacKenzie put in a goal unassisted by breaking through up the middle and skidding it in the bottom left corner.

"We knew we had a good team this year and a lot of guys have stepped it up," Mackenzie said. "For a senior year, I couldn't ask for much more."

Coxhead starting subbing reserves in the closing minutes with one of those coming through with 7:26 left when Austin Delk assisted Sam Brehmer's header just out of the reach of Calhoun's Eric Murillo.

Wesleyan's defense also did its part by playing its fourth playoff game without any goals allowed. Keeper Eric Sunderman was never under much pressure as Calhoun only had three shots on goal, but two of those were critical saves in the second half when the Yellow Jackets were trying to mount a comeback.

By virtue of a predetermined bracket, Wesleyan will be at home Friday for the state championship against No. 3 Thomasville, which defeated second-ranked Aquinas 4-3.

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to play for a championship at home," Coxhead said.