Photo: John Amis Hebron Christian players watch as Paideia players celebrate at the end of the Class A state soccer championship, Saturday at Kennesaw State University. Hebron lost 4-5.
KENNESAW -- Both Hebron Christian and Paideia showed plenty of resiliency in their Class A (Private) state boys soccer championship match.
Unfortunately for the Lions, the Pythons showed their mettle at the more opportune time.
Malcom Singleton's goal off a free kick with 2:20 left in regulation forced extra time, before Paideia outscored Hebron 4-1 in the penalty-kick shootout to come away with a 5-4 win Saturday at Fifth Third Bank Stadium on the campus of Kennesaw State University.
It was a disappointing end to a comeback effort by Hebron, which rallied from behind twice behind Cole Redman's hat trick before taking its first lead of the game on Bailey Pinto's goal midway though the second half.
"We finally got the lead with 20 minutes to go, and it seemed like an eternity," Hebron coach Bob Gardner said after his Lions finished the season at 16-3-1. "We were just two minutes and 20 seconds away from a state championship. I feel bad for our seniors, but we've got a good core of juniors and sophomores coming back. Our plan is to come back again next year."
Hebron fell into a hole early in both halves, which forced the Lions to play catch-up much of the game.
It took just 3:31 from the opening kickoff for Paideia (21-1) to grab the lead on Gustavo Martinez's goal, and the Pythons made it 2-0 when Quill Yates split the Hebron defense and scored at the 17:44 mark.
"We warned (the players) in the locker room they (Paideia) were going to press from the get go, (and) they're going to hit us hard," Gardner said. "But we did rebound."
Indeed, the Lions rebounded behind good teamwork from Redman and Andrew Thompson as the half wound down.
Thompson sent a long pass up the right wing that Redman ran down after beating his man and fired from just at the top of the penalty area that sneaked in under the crossbar to pull the Lions to within 2-1 with 13:19 to play in the half.
Hebron nearly tied it less than two minutes later when Ben Austin headed a long right-wing throw-in from Ryan Thomas on goal, but Paideia keeper Patrick Wilkerson managed to punch it just over the crossbar.
However, the Lions did even the game just before halftime with a little deja vu.
Thompson once again found Redman in stride down the right wing, and the junior buried an almost identical shot to his first goal with 3:34 left in the half to send the game into intermission tied at 2-2.
"They communicate very well," Gardner said of Redman and Thompson. "They've been playing together from middle school, so they have a great feel for each other."
But it took Paideia less than three minutes into the second half to regain the lead when Martinez was taken down in the penalty area.
Lions keeper Noah Blalock got a piece of Pinner's ensuing penalty kick, but the senior's shot was plenty powerful enough to find the back of the net and put the Pythons back in front at 3-2 with 37:09 remaining.
Still, the Lions remained persistent and retied the game at 3-apiece when Redman finished another assist from Thompson at the 23:45 mark of the second half.
Just 3:45 later with exactly 20 minutes to play, Pinto gave Hebron its first lead at 4-3 when he rang a free kick from just outside the 18-yard mark on the right wing off the crossbar, off the hands of Wilkerson, off the crossbar again and in.
But with time winding down, Paideia got a scoring opportunity when a foul was called on the right wing just outside the penalty area.
Having missed on several set pieces by shooting directly on net, Pinner decided to send a pass into the box, where Singleton made a nice run to deflect the shot inside the near post with 2:20 left to knot the score at 4-4.
"We didn't plan that," Paideia coach Eric Thomas admitted. "We do a lot of that. It's usually the kids kind of seeing where the runs are and making the plays. This team is really creative.
"They really hadn't been down (much) this season. So, you had to see what they had in them -- how they'd react. ... I honestly thought they'd react the way they did, but I wasn't positive."
Nor was Thomas positive how things would work out after two scoreless overtime periods sent the game to a penalty-kick shootout.
"We've lost the last two (years in the) Final Four on PKs," Thomas said. "I thought we could do it, and I know I've got skilled players and I've got a good goalie, but you're never positive."
The Pythons became more positive after Robert Hines and Braden Elmer traded goals in the first round, when Wilkerson smothered Daniel Hunt's low shot to the near post, and Sam Tatum answered with a goal to put Paideia up 2-1.
After Eric Inkster scored, Pinto then sent his third-round shot over the crossbar, and Pinner closed out the shootout with a goal to seal the game, and the title, for Paideia.