ALPHARETTA — It wasn't clear how it happened.
A West Forsyth throw-in led to a scrum in front of Alpharetta's goal, and suddenly, an otherwise harmless shot had trickled into the net at a rather leisurely rate.
It's clear what the goal represented, though, doubling the West's lead minutes into the second half and handing the Wolverines what seemed like a sizable advantage. Then after Ava Martin piled on another goal fewer than two minutes later, it turned West's sizable lead into an insurmountable one as the Wolverines raced past Alpharetta, 4-1, and into the Class 7A state championship match.
"It was very reminiscent of last year's Mill Creek game," West coach Jason Galt said. "You know, we weathered the storm and we kind of composed ourselves and were able to get that first goal to settle us down a little bit. We've always been a second-half team anyway. All year long we've kind of been that way."
West's first score came with 2:36 left in the first half off a deflection in front of Alpharetta's goal.
West senior Emma Armstrong fired a shot off her left foot, but Grace Chaplin stepped in front of the ball and sent it spinning toward Alexia Force, who took possession and found the back of the net to give West a 1-0 lead.
The goal had all the makings of a game-winner after the two teams played a relatively even match through the first 37 minutes. Alpharetta logged eight shots to West's six in the first half.
The Raiders' best chance in the first half came at the 6:15 mark, when Alpharetta was awarded a free kick just outside West's penalty box, but the West wall knocked down two shots, and the ball never reached Abby Cragin in goal.
West immediately countered, which led to Force's goal right before half.
Four minutes after halftime and that lead swelled to three goals.
"We've missed a lot of goals not running to the back post, so I knew she was going to be able to beat that player on that side so I made sure I was there," Martin said of her second-half goal. "I just wanted to focus, given I'd missed before."
West blew the match open minutes later when Armstrong scored off a corner kick that Alpharetta failed to clear out of the box.
"The philosophy is, the more times you can get the ball in that box, the more chances you have to score," Galt said. "We just keep putting it in, putting it in, putting it in and eventually we get it. Then once we get a goal or two, I've always said this, it's like sharks with blood in the water."
West's back line thwarted several Alpharetta attempts in the second half, keeping the Raiders at bay, including midway through the half when Cragin was caught out of possession, giving the Raiders a clear path to goal. But Kayleigh Hilton denied back-to-back shots to stymie the attack.
Michelle Moskau patrolled the back line from her position at center back and helped set the tone for West's defense.
"I love being back there and I love playing with them," Moskau said. "The communication is really important — the fact that we keep everyone focused, because with the student section and everything it can get a little rowdy. We can cancel out the noise and do our jobs, and that's what we did."
The win matches West against Mill Creek in the Class 7A state championship on Tuesday after the Hawks topped Walton in penalty kicks.
"It means everything," Martin said. "I tore my ACL last year, so I didn't get to be part of the state run. So, I'm glad to be back."
West [17-3] has won 12th straight matches and will have an opportunity next week to win its second straight state title.
"It illustrates the dominance of our soccer program right now," Galt said. "My JV team has lost three games in four years. Varsity-wise, we won it all last year and we're back in it this year. We graduated 10 seniors and arguably the best player in the nation. We graduated 11 people and here we are back in the state championship. That's because we have what I would say is the best program in the state of Georgia right now at the 7A level."