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Area soccer teams can clinch state championship berths in Tuesday's semifinal round
Five remaining squads face huge challenges in late stages of playoffs
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East Hall's Sergio Turcios, right, gets past Tattnall's Yulius Ornelas, left, and Silvestre Camacho prior to scoring a goal for the Vikings last Saturday afternoon during the first half of the Vikings Class AAA playoff match at East Hall Stadium.

Tuesday’s games
Flowery Branch girls vs. McIntosh, 5:30 p.m.
Gainesville boys vs. Dalton, 6:30 p.m.
Buford girls vs. Whitewater, 6:30 p.m.
Jefferson girls at Marist, 6:30 p.m.
East Hall boys vs. Pace Academy, 7 p.m.

Tickets are $7, per GHSA rules.

Elie Viviant is well aware of the test awaiting his Gainesville boys soccer team in the Class 6A semifinals — and the slim odds most believe the Red Elephants have of passing it.

After winning its first three playoff contests by two goals apiece, Gainesville will have to go through powerhouse program Dalton if it wants to reach the state championship game. The top-ranked Catamounts cruised to three straight state championships from 2013-2015 and are the presumed favorite to add another trophy to their collection this season.

Just don’t expect the Red Elephants to shy away from the challenge.

“We have nothing to lose,” Viviant said following the team’s 3-1 win against Centennial in the quarterfinals last Saturday. “Everyone says they are the best team. And when I look on paper and watch them, I’d say they’re probably a bit better than us.

“But our guys have been fighting, and we appear to be peaking right now.”

That might as well be the case for all five area teams still standing in the state tournament, which are just one win away from turning their postseason runs into state championship appearances.

Gainesville joins the East Hall boys and the Flowery Branch, Buford and Jefferson girls in playing semifinal matches today.

“I don’t necessarily remember a year where so many local teams made it this far,” said 10th-year Flowery Branch coach Katie Scali. “Teams have some ups and downs from year to year, but I feel like our area is pretty competitive.”

All but the Jefferson girls are hosting their respective games, with the other four teams earning home field advantage by virtue of a GHSA-mandated coin flip between similarly seeded schools.

That comes as a relief to Viviant, who said visiting teams are often surprised by the width of the field at City Park Stadium. After all three playoff games there this season, the coach indicated his players used that advantage to wear out their opposition.

Gainesville (18-2) certainly did so during its 3-1 win against Centennial that sent the team to its first semifinal since 2012, when it finished as state runner-up. But the Red Elephants must clear a huge hurdle in their battle of No. 1 seeds against Dalton (20-1) at 6:30 p.m. today if they are to return there.

Flowery Branch faces an uphill battle in the semifinals, as well.

Scali’s squad, which missed the playoffs the last two seasons, will host defending Class 5A state champion McIntosh at 5:30 p.m. today. The second-seeded Lady Falcons (13-6-1) have spent the entire postseason at home and hope that advantage can carry them to the state title game.

“We had a bunch of our students at our last game, and having the support of their friends is really important to the girls,” Scali said. “Having students coming up to us all excited and giving us hugs, that’s priceless. And everything is more familiar here. We have a routine and a process. Anything that makes it easier on a game day with that much pressure is a good thing.”

Last Friday, Flowery Branch pulled off a dramatic win against Starr’s Mill that went to penalty kicks and gave the team its first semifinal appearance in program history.

On the other side of the bracket sits Buford, giving Region 8-5A two teams in the semifinals. A Lady Wolves (16-2-2) victory against fellow No. 1 seed Whitewater at 6:30 p.m. today could potentially set up a rematch with Flowery Branch in the title game.

“It says something good about soccer in this area,” Scali said. “I’ve talked with (Buford coach Drew Eager) over the past few weeks, and we’re pulling for each other. We’re rivals on the field but rooting for each other regardless.”

For all the teams seeking to finally get over the hump and reach a state championship match, East Hall is just trying to return there.

The No. 2 seed Vikings (17-4) can make their goal a reality when they host second-seeded Pace Academy at 7 p.m. today. East Hall seems well on its way to making a return trip after cruising past its first three playoff opponents by a combined score of 17-2.

Sophomore striker Sergio Turcios has produced a hat trick in all three wins, but Vikings coach Chris Horton believes his team’s true strength lies in its depth and versatility — all 10 starters in the field have notched at least one goal and assist this season.

Jefferson rounds out the crop of local teams in the semifinals, having made perhaps the most surprising run of them all.

The third-seeded Lady Dragons (13-3-1) have shut out all three of their state tournament opponents on the road, knocking off a pair of No. 1 seeds in the process. They’ll attempt to keep that magic going when they visit top-seeded and reigning Class 4A runner-up Marist at 6:30 p.m. today in Atlanta.

All state championship games will be held Friday and Saturday, split between McEachern High in Powder Springs and Mercer University in Macon.

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