Blalock comes up big for Lions' boys; girls lose to Fellowship

DACULA -- Hebron keeper Noah Blalock was barely tested on Friday night in the Lions' quarterfinal match of the Class A state playoffs at home against Fellowship Christian School.

But in the final seconds of overtime, Blalock was finally challenged by the Fellowship offense, and the Lions keeper came up huge.

Diving to his right on a rocket from Jake Williamson, Blalock corraled the second shot on goal from Fellowship, smothering the effort with two seconds left on the clock to preserve the boys' 2-1 overtime win over the Paladins.

The victory put Hebron (15-2-1) into unprecedented territory as the Lions reached the semifinals for the first time in school history.

Williamson's shot seemed unlikely when he first took possession of the ball about 30 yards out from the goal as several Hebron defenders were in the area.

Williamson managed to weave his way in, literally bouncing his way through before getting the shot off.

"All I know is that (Williamson) drove through about half my team," Hebron head coach Bob Gardner said. "I'm just so glad that we didn't make a foolish foul and let the goalie make a play on the ball. I'd rather take our chances with Blalock because he has great ability."

That save was huge as Hebron (16-1-1) had taken a 2-1 lead with 4:42 left in the second overtime when Cole Redman successfully converted a penalty kick after being fouled in the box.

The Lions had trouble in regulation with its offense but finally broke through and took control in the second half when Braden Elmer took a long feed from Andrew Thompson and streaked into the box.

Elmer made a move to the near post, pulling the Fellowship keeper in that direction, and hooked a shot inside the right post with a swift kick from his left foot.

The Hebron defense kept Fellowship (12-5) at bay most of the night, but the Paladins caught a break just over 10 minutes later when Drue Aikin was awarded a PK after being fouled in the box.

Aikin would hit the kick, knotting the score at 1-1 before Redman's PK in overtime put the Lions in the semifinals. Friday's win marked the second nail biter for the Lions as they won 1-0 last week to reach the quarterifnals.

"I can't take much more of this," a relieved Gardner said. "This first time of getting into the final four is awesome." Hebron will play the Our Lady of Mercy/First Presbyterian winner on Wednesday.

The win by the boys helped soothe some of the burn felt by the Hebron faithful after the girls game as Fellowship nipped the Lions 2-1 in overtime.

The girls game was one of those that Hebron dominated in most aspects, but Fellowship's physical style of play was enough to throw the Lions off their normal game plan.

"We've faced some bigger schools this year, but no one has played us that physical before," Hebron girls head coach Colin Pop said. "It was frustrating at time because we had our chances. Fellowship just took us out of our game tonight."

Fellowship struck first with 6:46 left in the first half when Megan Hudgens scored her first of two goals on the night.

On the play, Hebron keeper Lexi Kent came out to battle Hudgens for the ball after a long pass. Both players reached the ball at the same time, but Hudgens came away with the fifty-fifty battle and easily put in the goal.

Hebron tied it at 1-1 in the second half when Jordan Lowery took control of a loose ball after a corner kick from Sarah Boyd, hitting the back of the net for the equalizer.

Hebron, who outshot Fellowship 8-6, would muster several other good looks but couldn't capitalize.

In the second overtime, Hudgens was in the right place at the right time when a shot from one of her teammates hit off the cross bar and settled right in front of her for another easy goal. That score came with 4:20 left in the second overtime, and proved to be enough to send the Paladins (15-3) to the semifinals.