Effingham County High School

Forest Park ends landmark Rebels' season

Panthers hang on for 2-1 win in state playoff first round

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April 30, 2015

By Patrick Donahue

The Effingham County Rebels finally captured their long-sought-after region soccer championship. The first state playoff win in program history remains an elusive goal. Forest Park scored twice in the second half and withstood a bevy of Rebels flurries for a 2-1 win Wednesday in the first round of the Class AAAAA state soccer playoffs. The loss ended one of the best seasons in Effingham program history at 15-4. “It’s been a great season. It’s been the best season this school’s ever had, proclaimed Rebels coach Blake Kessler. “I’m very proud of the boys for the commitment they showed this year. I challenged them earlier this year. I challenged them to win the region. And they did it. “This has been the most fun I’ve had coaching a team, and it’s all because of the hard work of these guys. Forest Park improved to 14-4-1 and will meet Lithia Springs in the second round. Parker Rawlins staked the Rebels to a 1-0 lead at the 24:24 mark in the first half. Fred Divino set up Rawlins, following a throw-in deep in Forest Park territory, in front of the Panthers’ net. The Rebels controlled much of the first half and had two chances to extend the lead in the minute but couldn’t convert. Effingham keeper Shaw Bennett made two saves in the final minute of the half to preserve the 1-0 lead. Less than 10 minutes into the second half, Bennett made a diving try at a Panthers’ shot punching it out of the way. Just a few seconds later, he blocked another scoring attempt while sitting on the ground. “Shaw Bennett is definitely the best keeper in the region, Kessler said of his lone fourth-year senior. “I’ll put him up against anybody in this area. He’s an outstanding keeper. But the Panthers finally solved Bennett with 29:21 to go in the game, as Boris Rodas converted from in front to tie the game. Rawlins’ shot with just over 23 minutes to go clanged off the post, and Rodas set up Elvin Alvarado for the winner with 15:40 remaining. Rodas sent a pass across the box to Alvarado, who ripped a shot from the left side and a sharp angle past a sprawling Bennett. Rebels coaches protested a hand ball should have been called just as Forest Park set in motion its go-ahead goal. “They’re a quality program, Kessler said of the Panthers. “They played fast, they played aggressive. I feel l ike it was an evenly-matched game tonight. We couldn’t finish some chances. The Panthers’ second-half surge was a welcome appearance for Forest Park coach Shane Pulliam. “When you travel this much and you’re in the bus a lot, sometimes you kind of get dead-legged, he said. “I think it took us a while to get going and impose our style and stop playing their style. They’re really good at their style and it’s worked well for them. We were fortunate to come out of here with a win. They’ve got a great team. The Rebels mounted several attacks against Forest Park in the closing minutes, including getting back-to-back corner kicks. A scramble in the front resulted in a handful of shots that never got through the Panthers’ defense. “There was some luck that didn’t go our way; there were some calls that didn’t go our way, said Kessler. “That’s an aspect of the game you can’t control. Said Pulliam: “We’re fortunate they didn’t finish very well, and we did finish. Sometimes you need a little luck to get through and tonight we were lucky and they weren’t as lucky. The Rebels will lose Bennett, Divino and Derek Hendrix to graduation but return the vast majority of their first region championship team. “We’ve got young guys who are ready to step up and challenge, Kessler said. “We’re going to make another run next year. We’ve got a lot to work with. To Kessler, it’s not just having so many players expected to return for 2016 as it is what they gained from the experience of winning the region and going to the state playoffs. He’s already looking forward to an even better campaign next season. “They’ve been challenged, and they know what hard work does, he said. “They know what it is going to take. Bringing back such a large number of kids is a huge advantage for us. They got a taste of it now. They got a taste of winning. They’re not going to be satisfied unless we make another run at a region title. They’re not going to be satisfied unless we make a run at the state tournament.

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