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Soccer: South boys prevail again in penalties to advance to state semifinals
South Forsyth's Aarnav Sandhu celebrates with teammates P.J. Mollenauer and Grey Sizemore after the War Eagles won their state quarterfinal game against Hillgrove on Saturday, May 5 at Hillgrove High School. - photo by Ian Frazer

POWDER SPRINGS — The tense silence enveloping a penalty kick makes every other sound extra clear, so this verbal volley from Hillgrove’s student section to South Forsyth boys soccer goalkeeper Aarnav Sandhu was especially audible. 

“Goalie, you suck!”

But 10 minutes later, as Sandhu gingerly walked through gate around the field and back to the bus, that same student section greeted him with applause. 

South predicates its success on defense, and the eventual conclusion of any defensive stalemate is a penalty kick shootout. The War Eagles won that way against Norcross in the second round of the state playoffs on Wednesday, and they did it again in the quarterfinals on Saturday. Sandhu saved three shots in the shootout, which South won 3-1 after ending extra time in a 1-1 tie, and the War Eagles advanced to the state semifinals, where they’ll face either Walton or Peachtree Ridge on Tuesday.

“He’s my two-time MVP for a reason,” South head coach Tom Braun said of Sandhu.

Braun was complimentary of Sandhu, but not of South’s execution through regulation. The War Eagles scored just under nine minutes in on a penalty kick from P.J. Mollenauer, which was called when Andrew Shah was dragged down chasing a ball in the box, but Hillgrove controlled possession after that and made South’s offense reliant on counter-attacks. 

“Hillgrove took it to us for a long time,” Braun said. “Then we had a little bit of attack, and then we sat back again. At that point, we just had to prevent anything from going in.”

The Hawks equalized with 25:48 remaining on the second half on a penalty kick of their own, with Hector Pulido calmly sliding the ball past Sandhu. 

Pulido got another chance a bit over 20 minutes later, when South was called for a handball on a cross. Sandhu dove low and to his right to save the shot, though. And when the two extra time periods ended scoreless and the shootout commenced, Sandhu made three more saves, diving twice to his left and once to his right, put the War Eagles through. Sandhu also had three saves in the shootout the previous round at Norcross.

“I just choose a side, dive, and hope it’s the right way,” Sandhu said.

Both the War Eagles (17-3-1) and county rival Lambert are in the state semifinals, bringing up a possible matchup in the state finals. The Longhorns play Tuesday as well, facing either Campbell or South Gwinnett at home.