Staff Photo: John Bohn Greater Atlanta Christian's Rachel Garcia (2) attempts to score as Westminster goal keeper Caroline Heller (3) makes a save late in the second half of a Class AA State Championship girls soccer match played in Carrollton on Saturday. Westminster defeated GAC 3-2.
CARROLLTON -- Facing a three-goal halftime deficit in the Class AA girls soccer championship game, Greater Atlanta Christian knew the task was tall if the Spartans were going to repeat as state champions.
But in the end, Westminster withstood a furious second-half rally from GAC and pulled out a 3-2 win over the Spartans at Ra-Lin Field on the campus of the University of West Georgia.
It also marked Westminster's only win against GAC this season after the two schools met twice during the regular season as members of Region 6-AA.
But it came at the right time for Westminster (16-5) as the Wildcats won their eighth state title and first since a co-championship with Blessed Trinity in 2006.
Meanwhile, for GAC, it was a tough way to finish a season in which the Spartans won 19 out of 21 games, but lost the final one that mattered most.
"Unfortunately, some folks will define our season on this game, but we won't," said GAC head coach Troy Bendickson. "We just had a letdown in 40 minutes that we pretty much haven't had all season.
"For 21 games, we were the best team and I wouldn't trade them for any team. This group of seniors has left its stamp on this program. They have left a legacy and we won't forget them."
Both teams traded offensive spurts in the early minutes of the first half, but it was Westminster that was able to connect to take the lead.
Kathryn Murray got it started for Westminster to give the Wildcats a 1-0 advantage at the 29:14 mark.
Christina Lopez delivered a corner kick from the right side and Murray finished for the opening goal of the game.
It was the first goal GAC had allowed since April 23 in the Spartans' 2-1 win over Westminster.
GAC had also defeated Westminster 5-1 back on April 2.
Westminster made it 2-0 when Linginfelter controlled a loose ball in front of GAC's goal and found the back of the net with 11:07 left in the first half.
But the back-breaker came just before halftime as Westminster built the 3-0 lead.
Lopez once again got it started with a corner kick, this time from the right side, and Caroline Beadles headed a shot into the GAC goal with only 5:00 remaining in the opening period.
"We were out of sorts early on, but we didn't see anything different (from Westminster)," said Bendickson. "We just didn't communicate on dead balls and they scored on three of them.
"I felt like we played a little tentative, a little nervous. And we expected (Westminster) to come out firing and be aggressive, which they did. We just didn't handle it well and I wish we could take back those 40 minutes."
But the second half was a different story as GAC got the offense going right out of the gate.
GAC got on the scoreboard when Taylor Wagnon scored on an assist from Kaitlyn Mayer less than five minutes into the second half to make it 2-1.
The Spartans cut it to 3-2 with 16:25 to go when Rachel Garcia scored on an assist from Wagnon.
But that would be it for GAC even though the Spartans maintained the offensive pressure, but couldn't find the goal for the all-important equalizer.
"We just talked about flipping it in the second half and we did," said Bendickson. "We thought we could change the whole culture of the game if we could get one in the first five minutes and we did. When we got that second (goal), I thought we could close the deal. But it's tough to be three goals down and then every out-of-bounds, every throw-in becomes so important as the clock runs. But credit Westminster --they played well."
GAC (19-2) finished with 13 shots, included nine on goal and many of those coming in the second half on Westminster goal keeper Caroline Heller.
Westminster had 11 shots, six on goal, but just three after halftime on GAC goal keeper Elizabeth White as the Spartans took over offensively.