Photo: Karl L. Moore Walker keeper Eric Flint knocks the ball away from Providence's Caleb McQuaig (14) and Alan Battista (11) during Saturday's state finals at Walker.
MARIETTA -- When Providence Christian needed its trademark play the most, the Stars were just inches away.
Providence, which advanced to the Class A boys soccer state championship game almost solely because of set pieces, couldn't get the equalizer on Saturday.
After the Stars opened the scoring just 2:15 into the game, they gave up three unanswered first-half goals to Walker and fell 3-1.
Because they're nearly automatic on the long throw-ins from Brent Hansen, Walker coach Gary Blohm couldn't exhale until late.
"They're so dangerous with those set pieces," Blohm said. "They have more set pieces than any team I've ever seen. They just kept putting it right there in your goalmouth. I didn't feel pretty good until less than two minutes (remaining)."
The message after the game from the Providence coaching staff was its team simply missed several second-half chances by inches.
"Inch here, inch there, that's about right," Providence coach Todd Henry said. "We're serving balls in from back here, off to the side. We put those in the last couple of games. This game, just a little wide, a little over the top."
A 30-yard Hansen throw-in gave Providence its only lead when he found Matt McGlamery on the far post to score the goal.
But with 11:48 left in the first half, Walker's Jacob Smith tied the game after Providence didn't clear a corner kick, and Smith scored on a rebound.
Two minutes later, Smith was taken down in the box, and Walker was awarded a penalty kick, which was converted by Jackson Bentley.
Then with 16 seconds remaining in the first half, Providence (16-6) was given a yellow card, and Walker (13-7-1) scored on a tic-tac-toe set play from Bentley to Smith to Evan Kasian deep in the box.
Both coaches agreed that the late goal allowed Walker to play a much more conservative style in the second half.
"That gave them the opportunity to sit back in the second half," Henry said. "They didn't have to pressure, and they could put a lot of guys in the box, which makes it harder to score."
Providence got to the state title game after playoff wins against First Presbyterian (5-1), Savannah Country Day (3-1) and Pace (4-1). Those came after the Stars ended the regular season with a surprising 3-2 overtime loss to Paideia after they had a two-goal lead. But that allowed the coaching staff to use two weeks of tough practices to motivate the team for the postseason.
With every starter from last year's team back this season, Providence set several lofty goals for the season. And while the Stars fell short of the state title, they met their goal of being relentless.
"They did everything they could that second half," Henry said. "Opportunity after opportunity. Even with 30 seconds left, we were trying to get a goal. The guys were relentless."
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