MARIETTA — West Forsyth coach Jason Bayush feels good about his team’s chances in penalty kick shootouts, no matter who the opponent is.
But Alexander Johnson didn’t allow the Wolverines to get that far Tuesday.
West came agonizingly close to upsetting No. 8 Wheeler, but exited in the first round of of the Class AAAAA state playoffs after conceding an overtime goal in a 2-1 loss.
The No. 2 seed Wildcats toiled for 86 minutes against the No. 3 seed Wolverines before Johnson headed in the decisive goal with a penalty shootout just a few minutes away.
“To play the second half 0-0 and go almost until the end of overtime is disappointing,” West coach Jason Bayush said, “because we pride ourselves on PKs [penalty kicks] and I pride my goalkeeper against anyone in the state.”
The Wildcats controlled much of the first half and were rewarded with the lead after 18 minutes. Alden Halseth created the goal, finding space down the flank to supply an unmarked Karan Kunwar for the simple, close-range finish.
While West goalkeeper Bryce Billington didn’t have a chance to prevent the opener, he twice made finger-tip saves to deny Johnson from adding to Wheeler’s tally.
Though West was held to a couple of first-half scoring chances, it evened the game moments before halftime. A botched clearance in the Wheeler penalty area found Fabian Mata in possession, and the midfielder rounded a defender before finding an advancing Niels Kroes, who fired high into the roof of the net from a few yards out.
Wheeler failed to capitalize on numerous chances in the second half. However, West also threatened, with John Newman coming close to scoring with an effort that brought out a full-stretch save from Wheeler keeper Victor Alves.
Alves was again called into action in the 68th minute, this time preventing Mata from pulling West ahead.
As the opening 80 minutes wound down, the contest became more fluid, with both teams pressing for the decisive goal. Halseth came within inches of claiming it, sending a shot narrowly wide with three minutes to go in regulartion time.
After a tense first period of overtime failed to break the tie, the Wildcats found the winner within 30 seconds of the restart. A long cross found Johnson, whose forceful, downward header sets up a matchup with Camden County.
“I told the boys after the game, ‘There’s no reason to hang your head [for losing] against a No. 8 team,’” Bayush said.
“We’ve been peaking at the right time and just came up a little short.
“It’s a testament to the kids. The future’s looking bright at West Forsyth.”