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Area soccer teams open playoffs eager to make a run at state championships
First round of state tournament gets underway Tuesday through Friday
0425Soccer1
Johnson's Rigo Campa (11) and Flowery Branch's Elias Araya (10) fight for possession of the ball last Thursday night as Johnson boys host Flowery Branch in the final region game of the season for both teams at Johnson High School. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Tuesday’s games
North Hall girls at Westminster, 5:30 p.m.
Dawson County girls vs. Lovett, 5:30 p.m.
Lumpkin County girls at Pace Academy, 5:30 p.m.
Chestatee girls at Chapel Hill, 6 p.m.
Lakeview Academy girls vs. Mount Vernon Presbyterian, 6 p.m.
Jefferson girls at Southeast Whitfield, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday’s games
Lakeview Academy boys at Paideia, 5 p.m.
Riverside Military at Holy Innocents, 5 p.m.
Chestatee boys at LaGrange, 6 p.m.
East Hall boys vs. Stone Mountain, 6:30 p.m.
Jefferson boys at Southeast Whitfield, 6:30 p.m.
Dawson County boys at Pace Academy, 7 p.m.

Thursday’s games
Buford vs. North Springs, 5:30 p.m.
Flowery Branch girls vs. Riverwood, 5:30 p.m.
Johnson girls at Decatur, 6 p.m.

Friday’s games
Flowery Branch boys at Riverwood, 7 p.m.
Johnson boys vs. Grady, 7 p.m.
Buford boys vs. North Springs, 7:30 p.m.
Gainesville boys vs. Harrison, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $7, per GHSA rules.

After earning a No. 1 seed in last year’s playoffs, the Johnson boys soccer team used an 8-0 blowout of fourth-seeded Fayette County in the first round to propel its run to the state championship game.

The Class 5A Knights repeated as region champs to claim another top seed this season, but they expect a much more difficult playoff opener against No. 4 seed Grady.

“We’ve got a really a tough first-round matchup,” Johnson coach Brian Shirley said. “Grady has been a ranked team throughout the entire year and is still in the top 10. They’re really not your typical four-seed, so they’re not a team that we can overlook.”

Johnson isn’t the only area school that has a hurdle to clear in the first round of the state tournament, which begins today and will run through Friday. Nineteen local teams will be vying for a spot in the second round, with 11 needing a road win to keep their seasons alive.

The No. 5 Knights (14-3) are among those with the luxury of playing at home as they host Grady (11-5-2), which is ranked 10th even though it finished fourth in Region 6-5A, at 7 p.m. Friday.

Shirley’s squad is one of three area No. 1 seeds, joining the Gainesville boys and Buford girls teams. The Knights and Lady Wolves both went undefeated with 6-0 marks in Region 8-5A, while the Red Elephants (15-2) reeled off seven straight wins to claim the Region 8-6A title after dropping a game early in the slate.

Injury-plagued through the first half of the season, a now-healthy Gainesville club hosts Harrison at 7:30 p.m. Friday as it attempts to reach the second round of the playoffs for the eighth straight season.

The second-seeded Flowery Branch girls out of Region 8-5A, meanwhile, are in the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The Lady Falcons (10-6-1) will try to make the trip last when they host Riverwood at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Four other area teams clinched No. 2 seeds, as well — the East Hall and Buford boys, along with the Lakeview Academy and Dawson County girls.

Flowery Branch girls coach Katie Scali said her team, which closed the regular season winning six of its last seven games, is peaking at the right time. She was particularly pleased with how her players responded in the two contests that followed their 5-4 loss at region opponent Winder-Barrow on April 11.

“That game woke us up,” Scali said. “But we’ve been able to steadily rise throughout the season. We don’t play an easy schedule early in the season, and that’s to help prepare us for this time of year. We may lose some games early, but we try to use those tough games and learn from them.”

The coach claimed Flowery Branch’s season finale was its best game all year. The Lady Falcons conceded an early goal before scoring all theirs in the second half to beat Lanier 4-1.

The Flowery Branch boys might be feeling the same way if not for a late set piece in their season finale.
Johnson topped the Falcons 1-0 on a deflected free kick with 16 seconds left last Thursday, though coach Jeremy Purdy saw a silver lining in the bitter defeat against the undefeated region champion.

No. 4 seed Flowery Branch’s three region losses came by a combined three goals against the teams that finished ahead of it in the standings, giving the squad confidence it can compete with anybody in the playoffs.

“We know what we have, and we’re healthy after a few injuries this season,” Purdy said. “I’m in my second year with the team, and we’ve progressed a lot from last season to this season.”

The Falcons (10-6-1) were already locked into the No. 4 seed before the loss to Johnson and are among a host of local teams that will likely spend their entire postseason stay on the road.

Chestatee’s boys and girls teams both enter the playoffs as third-seeded squads alongside the Dawson County boys, Lumpkin County girls and Riverside Military. No. 4 seeds also went to the Lakeview Academy boys and Johnson and North Hall girls.

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