North ousted by Milton in girls soccer quarterfinals

Photo: Craig Cappy Milton's Mackenzie Bailey (14) gets tackled by North Gwinnett's Caroline Gualdoni during Saturday's game.

Photo: Craig Cappy Milton's Mackenzie Bailey (14) gets tackled by North Gwinnett's Caroline Gualdoni during Saturday's game.


Photo: Craig Cappy North Gwinnett's Lauren Harriman watches as the final seconds wind down during the Bulldogs' loss to Milton on Saturday night.


Photo: Craig Cappy North Gwinnett's Katie Strand, right, tries to push the ball foward as she is defended by Mlton's Anna Hilpertshauser (4) during Saturday's game.

SUWANEE --Milton finally broke its North Gwinnett curse in the girls soccer playoffs Saturday night.

The top-ranked Eagles had been eliminated by North the previous two years in the postseason, but they finally broke through with a 6-1 victory in the Class AAAAA girls soccer quarterfinals.

North, ranked eighth in AAAAA, gave up a goal in the fifth minute, fell behind 2-0 and spent the rest of the night chasing the hosts' lead. Goals with three minutes left in the first half and 1:44 into the second half were demoralizing for the Bulldogs (14-7), who had played in the past two AAAAA championship games.

"Those were the ones we hoped not to give up," North girls coach Erik Crawford said of the late first-half and early second-half goals. "But they were great shots. That's what this team has done all year, they keep you on your heels. That one at the beginning of the second half really broke our back."

North defeated Milton 2-1 in last year's second round and 1-0 in the first round in 2010, but the Eagles changed their luck this year.

Milton, which faces the Collins Hill-Lassiter winner in Wednesday's semifinals, rode its quick start to improve to 20-1 on the season, with the lone loss coming to St. Pius on penalty kicks.

Sanna Levine got behind the defense for breakaways and scored Milton's first two goals in one-on-one situations with North goalkeeper Austin McCausland. Her tally in the fifth minute got the hosts going and her strike in the 22nd minute really put the pressure on the Bulldogs with a two-goal deficit.

But North rebounded by controlling most of the play for the rest of the first half, even cutting the margin to 2-1 in the 25th minute.

MacKenzie Loula set up the goal with a long clearance behind the Milton defense and into open space, which caused Milton goalie Tori Stajduhar to charge it. North's Lauren Harriman met Stajduhar at the ball for a collision and the ball spun toward Taylor Burns, who fired a 30-yard shot into the open net.

North held the momentum until a back-breaker of a goal with three minutes left in the opening half. Milton's Nora Elshami floated a 40-yard shot that went just over a back-pedaling McCausland's hands and under the crossbar for a 3-1 edge.

As demoralizing as that goal was, Callie O'Connor's strike to open the second half was equally crushing. The 4-1 lead seemed to deflate the Bulldogs and the Eagles tacked on goals from O'Connor and Imani Walker. O'Connor's second goal came when Loula, North's center back, was out with an injury.

The loss ends the career of seven North seniors who have been around for unprecedented success in the Bulldogs' soccer program. They reached the quarterfinals as freshmen, won state as sophomores and finished as state runner-up last season.

"I'm so proud of these seniors," Crawford said. "This has become the norm because of these seniors. They've played more than 80 games in their careers. ... And we got some young players who got some experience this year and learned that this is what we expect."