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North Hall boys fall 4-0 to defending champs St. Pius X in semifinals
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ATLANTA — After three road playoff wins, the battle-tested North Hall boys soccer team needed one more win to secure a berth in the state championship game.

It couldnt dethrone the defending state champions St. Pius X to do so.

The Trojans’ longest playoff run in more than 20 years ended Tuesday night, as they were shut out by the Golden Lions 4-0 in their Class AAA state semifinal game at Maloof Field.

The fifth-ranked Trojans end the season with a 14-5-1 record.

St. Pius X (17-5) was led by J.D. Manzo, who scored two goals and one assist.

Edmundo Robinson and Austin Fain each added a goal.

“They played well,” North Hall head coach Jonathan Lillie said. “St. Pius is a great team, clearly.”

The first half started off strong for both defenses, making the opposing offenses work hard to cross the midway point of the field.

The first shot attempt didn’t come until eight minutes into the half, as St. Pius’ J.R. Cozine hit the top of the goal, missing an opportunity for an early lead.

The Golden Lions kept attacking and struck first when Jon Soloaga found Manzo for a goal and a 1-0 lead 13 minutes into the half.

The score remained the same at halftime.

“I felt like the first 15 to 20 minutes of the game we were playing right with them,” Lillie said. “Our goalie saved a penalty kick and kept us in it on a number of occasions. Going into halftime 1-0 we were pretty positive. We weren’t going to sit back in this game. I knew we could control the ball well and play well.”

North Hall’s offense wasn’t able to mount the comeback. Instead, St. Pius’ offense kept attack going, as Robinson headed in his shot after receiving a pass from Cozine in the sixth minute of the second half.

With just over 15 minutes left in the game, Fain found the back of the net from just in front of the goal, giving the St. Pius a commanding 3-0 lead.

They finished the scoring a minute later when Manzo booted through a pass from Bobby Grunow.

“That last half of the game, it materialized here and there, but it was waning,” Lillie said. “I felt like we just couldn’t quite put together what we wanted to put together. That second goal hurt.

“The 4-0 score line really isn’t representative, I think, of how we played. When you’re down 1-0, you have to go chase the game. You have to push people forward. And that opens up things that you may or may not have opened, and I think St. Pius did a great job of taking advantage of those spaces.”

St. Pius head coach David O’Shea said he was pleased with the way his defense played against the Trojans’ attacking offense.

“I knew they were going to come with intensity and we had to match that and I think we did that,” O’Shea said. “They had strength in the midfield. I knew if we shut down their attacks and threats in the mid-field then they wouldn’t give us a lot of problems going forward, and I think we did that.”

As Lillie looked back on the historic season, he said his team grew more in the playoffs, shaking nerves from the first game and realized they were a good team.

“Character is the foundation of a good team,” Lillie explained. “A team with good character and good ethical and moral values on the field and off the field, keeps a team together. These guys are guys of character that were willing to serve each other and were willing to work together.

“When they got down, they didn’t blame each other. They tried to step up their game together. That’s the difference between a good team and a great team and this team is a great team.”

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