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Wheeler takes down Lions on PKs

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

SUWANEE -- When Peachtree Ridge and Wheeler finished 90 minutes of regulation and overtime soccer tied at 1-1 in their first round matchup of the Class AAAAA boys soccer playoffs, it seemed a little odd that momentum could actually carry over into the penalty kick shootout.

But old mo did just that as Wheeler scored on nine straight PKs, then watched as goalkeeper Phillipe Dias knocked away Branden Green's shot on Peachtree Ridge's ninth attempt to send the Wildcats (11-4-4) into the second round against the Parkview-Milton winner.

"We practice (penalty kicks) all the time," said Wheeler co-head coach Mickey McNeill. "This is a program that hasn't been in the state tournament in five years, so we have talked to (the players) about how close the games are when you get to this point of the season.

"But unless you've been there, you really don't know."

It looked Peachtree Ridge (14-4) would have the upper hand through the game, which was bumped up two hours to avoid the forecasted rough weather. The Lions jumped on top 1-0 when Jeremy Rector beat a pair of Wheeler defenders and scored his 17th goal of the season past Dias with 35:07 remaining in the opening half.

Peachtree Ridge, the No. 2 seed from 7-AAAAA, dominated the entire first 40 minutes and nearly went up 2-0 as Rector sent a shot towards the Wheeler net late in the half. But Wildcats defender Alden Halseth made a last-ditch kick at the ball and sent it back on the playing field before it crossed the goal line.

That, in itself, could have saved the game.

"That was a big play," said McNeill. "So we talked about playing with more energy once the second half started and we did a good job of working together, because we were only down one goal."

In that second half, Wheeler, the No. 3 seed out of 5-AAAAA, did come alive and controlled the tempo by staying aggressive on the offensive end. That paid off with 17:37 remaining in regulation when Kevin Osorio's free kick found Joao Silva free near the left goal post and Silva poked home the shot to tie the game.

Neither team could mount a serious threat in the two five-minute overtime periods, which set up the drama in the penalty kicks.

"(Wheeler) just wanted it more," said Peachtree Ridge head coach Ryan Sutton. "I thought they were more aggressive in the second half, especially after they scored to tie it. We just didn't get enough going in the second half and it wasn't really anything (Wheeler) was doing. We talked about everyone is good once you get this far. Unfortunately, we just didn't quite have enough today."