MACON – As the heat slammed down on Anderson Field, West Forsyth's incredible season slowly began to melt away.
Junior Brooke Pirkle nearly hit an equalizing goal in the second half, firing a cannon from long range that just scraped the top of the crossbar with 23 minutes to go, but the Lady Wolverines weren't able to produce another look as they fell, 2-1, in the Class AAAAAA state championship game Friday night against Lassiter at Five Star Stadium on the Mercer University campus.
It was a sobering result for West and head coach Jason Bayush, who were the only team to have defeated Lassiter during the season.
“It's kind of surreal to make it all this way and lose it in the same score we beat them, it's kind of ironic,” Bayush said. “Lassiter deserved it today and were the better team. I can't be more proud of our girls, they never gave up, so we'll refocus, get back to the drawing board and prepare for another run next year.”
West (16-5-1) struck just seconds into the match when Grace Ann Green confidently faced up a defender and put through a shot from 27 yards out, just off the fingers of goalkeeper Megan Richardson, but Lassiter (20-1) followed five minutes into action with a clear shot on a run-out from Kelsey Hahn.
The Lady Trojans then sent a barrage at West's back line for the rest of the half. Despite numerous defensive breakdowns, West survived the lapses until a questionable corner kick turned into a header for Mackenzie Brennan.
Just before Lassiter's go-ahead goal, West had two great scoring opportunities—one, another clean look from Pirkle, and the other during a scramble just feet from the goal.
The rest of the contest was a struggle for possession that got worse as the teams began to fatigue. West switched defender Carsen Parker and forward Kylie Gazza's position, and also attacked on the wing more than usual in attempts to shake things up, but couldn't execute down the stretch.
Despite the loss, Bayush is encouraged knowing that he'll return nearly the entire core of his team next season. West will say goodbye to seniors Melissa Escudero and starting midfielder Megan Moore. This year's final marks the second straight year a Forsyth school has fallen in the Class AAAAAA finals after Lambert ran into a dominant Grayson team last year.
Bayush thinks Forsyth's first girls soccer championship is close.
“We put West on the map this year for the first time, so hopefully we get notoriety," Bayush said. "This has been great for our program and our school. I'm so appreciative of the fans that came out today and the support we've had from teachers and coaches. We felt like we were in a good position to win it.”
West was outshot 17-8, while sharing the same number of penalties and corner kicks as Lassiter. Freshman goalkeeper A.J. Needham fell victim twice, but held her own—neither goal was her fault, and she made two impressive saves to keep West within striking distance.
“A.J. is a unique character. We have enough confidence in her to put her out there in a state title game, that's for sure,” Bayush said.
West will return its entire center of its lineup with Needham in goal, Parker at defender, Brooke Pirkle at midfield and Gazza on the attack. With so many players preparing to become either seniors or sophomores, Bayush is confident that the future is bright.
“It's a good feeling to be here, it's a sad feeling to leave without the big trophy, but we're so proud of them," Bayush said. "We bring everyone back. We'll let the girls do their thing for a while and then it's back to business.”