Quarterfinal playoff schedule
Flowery Branch girls vs. Starr’s Mill, 5:30 p.m.
Buford girls at Veterans, 6 p.m.
Jefferson girls at LaGrange, 7 p.m.
East Hall boys vs. Tattnall County, 4:30 p.m.
Buford boys at Carrollton, 7 p.m.
Gainesville boys vs. Centennial, 7:30 p.m.
Before the season began, way back in the fall, Katie Scali assembled the seniors on her Flowery Branch girls soccer team for dinner and a night of reflection at her house.
They discussed their intended direction for the season after two straight years of missing the playoffs, an exercise for the leaders of a team Scali said had recently performed “below expectations for what our program has been built around.”
Those eight Lady Falcons seniors had quite the vision.
Flowery Branch has matched its deepest postseason run and came make history in its Class 5A quarterfinal contest against Starr’s Mill at 5:30 p.m. today in Flowery Branch. The Lady Falcons (12-6-1) have reached this stage for the just the second time in school history (2009), with the seniors leading the team to the brink of its first-ever semifinal appearance.
“We flew under the radar all year,” Scali said. “I don’t think people expected us to be very good considering our previous two seasons, but us making it this far is a testament to those seniors. They’ve really put it together as a group.”
No. 2 seed Flowery Branch is one of six local teams still remaining in the state playoffs, joining the Buford and Jefferson girls in playing matches today. The Gainesville, East Hall and Buford boys all have their quarterfinal games set for Saturday.
While the Lady Falcons are seeking to finally get over the quarterfinal hump, East Hall is eyeing a return to the state championship game.
But the second-seeded Vikings (16-4) must first defeat fellow No. 2 seed Tattnall County in the teams’ match at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in Gainesville. East Hall has dominated its two postseason opponents thus far, handling Stone Mountain 5-1 before trouncing top-seeded Crisp County 6-1 on the road Wednesday.
The Vikings are hoping those huge wins can propel them back to the Class 3A state title game, where they allowed a pair of late goals in a 3-2 loss to Decatur last year.
“We want another chance at that ring,” sophomore Sergio Turcios said after East Hall’s first-round win April 26. “We want to make it back to that field again and take home a championship this time.”
Gainesville has been on a five-year quest to return to a state championship game. The top-seeded Red Elephants (17-2) finished as state runners-up in 2012 and will try to make it to the semifinals for the first time since then when they host No. 2 seed Centennial at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Elie Vivant’s squad has won 10 straight games, including two-goal victories both against Harrison and Glynn Academy to begin its Class 6A playoff run, but the competition has been heating up.
“There are no more easy games now,” Viviant said.
Buford, meanwhile, has a chance to place both its boys and girls teams in the Class 5A semifinals. The Lady Wolves (15-2-2) take on Veterans in a meeting of top-seeded teams at 6 p.m. today in Kathleen, while the No. 2 seed Wolves (11-6-2) travel to face No. 1 seed Carrollton at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Jefferson (12-3-1) rounds out the area teams still alive in the playoffs with a trip to top-seeded LaGrange at 7 p.m. today.
The No. 3 seed Lady Dragons have made a surprising run to the Class 4A quarterfinals by knocking off higher-seeded Southeast Whitfield and Woodward Academy by scores of 5-0 and 3-0, respectively.
Flowery Branch notched a big win of its own in the second round Tuesday, crushing Dutchtown 9-0 to earn the right to host the first quarterfinal game in program history. The Lady Falcons managed the feat without the services of starting midfielder Anna Grady, who will miss the rest of the playoffs due to an injury.
Scali commended her players for their flexibility and willingness to adjust, something the 10th-year coach said they’ve excelled at all year long.
Flowery Branch has its group of seniors to thank for that.
“The difference this year has been our internal leadership,” Scali said. “I didn’t do anything differently with how I ran the team — it’s the way the girls took it and got behind it. It comes down to the team’s response and taking on the challenge.”