West Forsyth 2, Harrison 1
KENNESAW – Twenty minutes remained and West Forsyth was still looking for answers on offense. Freshman forward Kylie Gazza showed off the same presence she had all year, but this time, against a prestigious Harrison club, she couldn't get a result on her own.
Just when it looked like West's storybook season might end, Cinderella's carriage finally arrived in the form of a slow-rolling deflection and a sneaky free kick.
Substituion Brooke Micham got credited with the equalizer as the ball bounced off her foot in a collision feet from the goal and slowly rolled past the scoring line before Harrison's keeper or a nearby defender could find it. Moments later, junior Brooke Pirkle swung in a free kick following a handball just outside the box—one that flew just high enough to clear the outstretched arms of Harrison's Lindsay Mathis.
West then bent back, but never allowed a tying goal in the final 15 minutes, and propelled itself to an improbable 2-1 win over two-time state champion Harrison in the state semifinals Tuesday night.
It's just the second state title appearance for a team in West's history, which only dates back to 2007, and the second straight season a Forsyth school has gone to the girls Class AAAAAA state final in soccer after Lambert finished runner-up last year.
Unlike the Lady Longhorns from a year ago, West might not have expected a trip to Macon when the season began. The Lady Wolverines returned essentially the same team that went just 7-9-1 a year ago.
“This has been a roller coaster, and it feels great,” West head coach Jason Bayush said. “I'm so proud of the girls, they came back and played a great second half. We we were kind of sluggish at first, we didn't play well getting off the bus and with a long wait, but perserverence came through and again, it was a team effort.
“Brooke Micham scored the tying goal, I mean that's unreal. She's played so little. This is what this is all about.”
West fell behind midway through the first half when a series of aggressive attacks from Harrison finally ended in a short-range goal from senior Treva Aycock. Aycock applied plenty of pressure the rest of the way, but could never find the back of the net again as West keeper A.J. Needham held strong, finishing with five saves.
After Pirkle's curling free kick gave West the advantage, the Lady Wolverines bent back against the anxious and skilled Harrison forwards. Needham never lost focus.
“I knew we had it,” Needham said. “All of our hard work has finally paid off.”
Pirkle's go-ahead goal was a heads-up play of sorts. After a hand ball, she knew she was within in striking distance and could sail a shot over Harrison's keeper, who's shorter than most.
“We practiced that the last game. The team we were playing was a little slow, and I noticed the wall wasn't set up, she was communicating with some teammates and the right side was open, so I just went for it,” Pirkle said.
Once it went in, Pirkle and her teammates finally realized they could actually move on to the state final. Emotions on the bench, she admits, propelled the team the rest of the way.
“It was amazing. An awesome feeling,” Pirkle said. “I'm relieved I can stand, but our hard work is paying off. We're finally getting recognition. I'm excited because we didn't make it in basketball, so we want to redeem ourselves.”
Pirkle is one of five West soccer players who also went to the final four in basketball this season, along with Carsen Parker, April Lothridge, Lauren Deaton and Meagan Moore.
West will face Lassiter (18-1) in the state championship at Mercer University at 5 p.m. on Friday. The Lady Wolverines happen to be the only team to beat Lassiter this season.
“They're a quality squad obviously, there's no doubt,” Bayush said. “We know what we are in for. But, what we learned tonight and what we've learned all year is these girls are ready for this.”