Walker downs GAC again

NORCROSS -- Greater Atlanta Christian pushed Walker further this time, but is still looking for a way to win when it counts most.

The Spartans lost to Walker, the two-time defending state champ, in the Class AA/A semifinals for the second straight year.

They took it to overtime Wednesday, 10 minutes more than a year ago, before falling 2-1.

Walker had to come from behind with a second-half goal to force the extra time and scored the game-winner in the 83rd minute to end GAC's outstanding run.

The top-ranked Wolverines have given up just nine goals this season and only once allowed more than one goal in a game.

"It's not the way I wanted to see my senior season out, that's for sure," said Madeline Barker, one of just two graduating members of the team. "But if I was going to lose, I wouldn't want to lose with anyone else but this team. We've put in hours upon hours of work and I cannot believe it's actually over.

"We played hard. But hard wasn't good enough this time."

Even after head coach Troy Bendickson spoke for long minutes, many of the players couldn't control their tears. Their faces still crumpled each time they went to hug another teammate, testament to the heart-wrenching loss and the end of an impressive season.

"It was a terrific season," Bendickson said. "It doesn't take anything away from this season just because we lost to, in my opinion, the eventual state champion. We've done it before, so it doesn't take away from what we accomplished. I don't think we were at our best tonight. But we were at our best for a long season.

"Unfortunately it's the end. There's too much finality to it."

The top two teams in Class AA/A played with cautious, testing parries for the opening 10 minutes.

No. 2 GAC was the first with any legitimate scoring chances. Barker put a shot off the corner of the crossbar in the 14th minute and Chelsea Gandy-Cromer headed another shot off the post less than a minute later.

Walker senior forward Nicole Locandro clipped the crossbar in the 22nd minute, but the Spartans broke through first.

Pulling goalkeeper Alyse Scott out of position, GAC kept possession of the bouncing ball near the left post. Freshman Rachel Garcia chested it down and ripped it into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead with 8:10 left in a tense first half.

"We were giving them a lot of space in the back in the first half," Bendickson said. "I felt like we were not at our best. Which was why I was excited about the second half, because I knew we could throw more at them."

The Spartans didn't let up though and created two more outstanding scoring opportunities in the ensuing moments. Barker stole the ball and made an excellent touch to a charging Gandy-Cromer. She danced into the goal box and blasted a shot that just sailed over the crossbar. A minute later, Gandy-Cromer was in nearly the same place and punched a hard shot wide of the far post.

"We prepared the same way we've been preparing," said Barker, who is Georgia bound in the fall. "We were pumped. We were ready to go. And it definitely wasn't that they wanted it more. I can guarantee you that."

"They just," Barker said with a pause, "got lucky."

The Spartans dodged two bullets with about 14 minutes gone in the second half, but five minutes later couldn't hold off Locandro again.

Locandro got control of a bad bounce and went speeding down the middle of the field. She stayed a step ahead on the converging defenders and buried a shot in the 59th minute that tied the game 1-1.

"The last 25 minutes we didn't look like ourselves," Barker said. "It was like we were playing and I didn't know who we were. I don't know. We didn't finish strong."