Marietta Daily Journal
MARIETTA – The benches cleared. The fans jumped the fences and ran onto the field. Cobb County school police officers made sure nothing got out of hand.
Just another boys soccer state playoff meeting between Walton and Pebblebrook.
The Raiders and Falcons met in the postseason for the second straight year Wednesday, but it was a different venue, a different round and a different result this time as Walton edged Pebblebrook 1-0 in the second round of the Class AAAAAAA state tournament at Raider Valley.
The Region 4AAAAAAA champion and top-ranked Raiders (18-1-1) will host Region 6AAAAAAA runner-up and eighth-ranked Peachtree Ridge (13-5-2) in the quarterfinals on Saturday. It will mark the Lions’ first trip to the round of eight in school history, while the Raiders continue on in hopes of claiming their seventh state title.
Seventh-ranked Pebblebrook (16-4-0), which earned Region 2AAAAAAA runner-up honors, watches its season come to a close after falling just short in last year’s state championship game.
“The matchup was incredible,” Walton coach Bruce Wade said. “Pebblebrook is a very technical team. They came at us. We did a great job defending. Our defense was spectacular. Every time I thought Pebblebrook was going to slip one through, we stepped in, made a tackle and poked the ball away. Just a really competitive game.”
Pebblebrook was aggressive offensively out of the gate resulting in four shot attempts in the first twelve minutes, including a try from Jefferey Appiah that hit the crossbar in the ninth minute.
But, Walton’s first shot proved to be its best shot as Chris Metts fed a deep ball to Josh Schwartz on the right side. Schwartz beat his defender to the ball, but briefly lost control of it, allowing Pebblebrook goalkeeper Axel Blanco to come out and challenge Schwartz for possession.
Blanco, however, was a step too late as Schwartz got to the ball and placed a delicate shot into the lower left corner of the net for a 1-0 goal in 24 minutes into the contest.
“We scored the goal we needed to score and kept the pressure on enough to keep (Pebblebrook) back,” Wade said. “It’s playoff soccer between two good teams.”
The goal was set up when Walton slowed Pebblebrook’s offense and began to control possession by stepping into passing lanes.
“The guys read it and predicted where it was going to go,” Wade said. “They stepped in. The first two passes are always difficult. The third pass is normally the one you can step in and win, and that’s what the boys were doing. It helped change our momentum.”
Pebblebrook outshot Walton 6-4 in the first half and both goalkeepers, Blanco and Walton’s Alex Euston, each had one save at the break. The Raiders had one corner kick.
The second half was an entirely different story, however, as the Falcons outshot the Raiders 12-0 to try to get themselves back in the contest. Walton remained patient offensively and defensively. Euston added another save.
“Our goal in the second half was to compete and use our flanks more than we had been,” Wade said. “We didn’t re-ally want to sit in and pack it in, but Pebblebrook really had to push to try to get a goal so we could hit them with a counter. We needed to keep them honest defensively.”
Appiah’s first half shot was one of three attempts that hit the crossbar. Emerzon Torres hit it in the 38th minute, while Michael Garcia hit it in the 49th. The rest of the Falcons’ 12 shots either went wide, high or were blocked.
“It’s disappointing,” Pebblebrook coach Anton Banfield said. “We didn’t finish. That’s it. We didn’t finish our op-portunities. These guys worked really hard. They had a great season.”
Pebblebrook scored twice in the final four minutes and eliminated Walton from the playoff chase following a 3-1 semifinal win at Falcons Stadium in last year’s game. Both squads were relentless with their attacks in their second playoff meeting, combining for six yellow cards and numerous foul calls.