After three consecutive years of falling short, Armstrong Atlantic State women's soccer prevailed Sunday.
The Lady Pirates won the Peach Belt Soccer Tournament at Blanchard Woods Park by beating Montevallo 5-2. The victory gave Armstrong its first conference tournament title.
Lady Pirates senior defender Kayley Ralton was part of the past three Armstrong teams that fell just short. She suffered season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tears in her left knee during her freshman, sophomore and junior seasons.
Finally healthy as a senior, the Scotland native helped her team to victory Sunday.
"I can't be happier," Ralton said. "I've put in four years of hard work. The team's brilliant. Our coach is a superb guy.
"I'm glad I'm going to finish here on a high note."
Ralton and her teammates qualified for the 48-team NCAA Division II Tournament with the victory. If Armstrong Atlantic State (15-3-3) had lost, it likely would have been sweating out the NCAA selection show.
"I told the kids to go through the front door and not worry about tomorrow," coach Eric Faulconer said. "It makes it a little easier to sleep tonight."
Three-time Peach Belt Player of the Year Kristin Burton extended her conference record for goals to 93 with two goals. The Armstrong Atlantic State senior forward also added two assists.
Burton said her team has rallied around the saying "Good to Great" this season after losing in the tournament finals in 2006 and 2007 and falling in the semifinals in 2008.
"A good team will get to the finals; a great team will finally win it," she said. "To do it in my last game in the Peach Belt is kind of bittersweet, because it's over. But it's a good way to go out."
Montevallo (8-9-3) tried to continue its magical run. The Falcon women, the No. 8 seed, upset No. 1 seed Columbus State in the first round before knocking off No. 4 seed Georgia College and State University in the semifinals.
Montevallo jumped out front on a Paige Scott goal. The Falcon women then took a 2-1 lead early in the second half, but the Pirate women, who took 15 more shots than Montevallo in the second half, never fretted.
"This team never gives up," Burton said. "We have a great resolve about us. We won't give up till the last whistle."
In the men's tournament, Lander players celebrated their title by racing around the soccer field at Blanchard Woods Park.
Stephen Magennis, a junior midfielder, scored the game-winning kick in the Bearcats' 4-3 shootout win over Flagler on Sunday evening.
"It's one in a million," Magennis said. "I've never felt anything like this before."
Lander, the lone conference team to defeat Flagler (14-5-2) during the regular season, used a pair of Jamie Ramm goals to send the game into overtime. Pol Berenguer and Mack Hough each scored goals for the Saints.
After a pair of 10-minute overtime periods, the match went into a penalty kick shootout. Flagler's Danny Burke tied the shootout at 3 on the Saints' final attempt. Then, Magennis lined up Lander's fifth attempt. He faked a hard kick left and punched an easy shot up the middle to give the Bearcats the title.
Goalkeeper Matthew Atkinson of England, set up Magennis' game-winning kick by stopping two of five shots in the shootout.
"He should be playing for England," Magennis said. "It was his time to shine in the end."
The Augusta Chronicle staff writer Chris Gay contributed to this report.
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