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Spartans bested in state title bid
West Hall High's Rudy Vazquez, back, and St. Pius X's Zach Elstad jump in preparation to hit the ball during the Class AAA state championship game Saturday in Atlanta. - photo by SARA GUEVARA | The Times

ATLANTA — West Hall’s 2009 soccer season was rife with storylines.

The Spartans avenged a painful loss with a Northeast Georgia Mountains Cup championship win over Johnson. They had a shutout streak that spanned the last six weeks of the season as they rolled to a Region 7-AAA title. They watched in anguish as senior Juan Arbelaez, one of the team captains, suffered what looked like a season-ending knee injury, then rejoiced when he returned in the next game to lead the team to a win in the state semfinals.

But the story Saturday was told in the long faces on the Spartans’ sideline. There would be no fairy-tale ending.

St. Pius X defeated the visiting Spartans, 3-0, in the Class AAA state championship game.

It was the first state title for the Golden Lions boys soccer team since 2001 and their seventh in school history. It also completed a weekend sweep for St. Pius X, whose girls team defeated North Hall in the state championship Friday.

It didn’t take long for St. Pius X (16-6-1) to break through on the Spartans defense, which hadn’t surrendered a goal since March 23.

Less that two minutes into the game, Golden Lions forward Stephen McGill took a well-placed corner kick from Andy Leipold and headed into the back of the net.

"We knew that we needed to get through the first 10 to 15 minutes and see that we could establish our game," West Hall coach Wolfgang Jager said. "But it didn’t work."

The Spartans’ chances to even the score were scarce.

St. Pius X exploited its significant advantage in height to gain and keep possession, winning a large majority of balls played higher than shoulder level. Led by McGill, the Golden Lions kept the pressure on West Hall (18-4) throughout, and gave Arbelaez and Rudy Vazquez, the Spartans leading scorers, precious few opportunities on offense.

"Give (St. Pius X) all the credit in the world," Jager said. "They beat us to the ball, especially in the air. They had good athleticism and didn’t let us establish our game."

The Golden Lions added their second goal with 24 minutes left in the first half. After another corner kick, it looked as if West Hall had kept the Golden Lions out of goal, but after play was stopped a second official came in to rule that Zach Elstad had scored for St. Pius X.

There was no doubt on the Golden Lions’ third goal of the half.

After a free kick from Leipold, West Hall goalkeeper Jamie King made a diving save only to have Nolan McKeever score off the ricochet.

Second half play was more evenly matched, but West Hall was never able to solve the St. Pius X defense.

The Spartans’ best scoring opportunity of the night came with 25 minutes left in the game and sailed just wide after Abelaez broke free down the right side, but couldn’t convert the shot on a tough angle.

St. Pius X finished with 15 shots on goal (10 in the first half) compared to West Hall’s six.

But the loss didn’t diminish the season’s accomplishments in Jager’s mind.

"I’m proud of what we did," he said. "Being in the state championship game for the first time, that was a mental burden and it came out in the way we played. But I’m still proud of them."

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