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Johnson, Buford, East Hall soccer teams prepare for Tuesday night's semifinals
Four area teams remain in contention for coveted state title game berth
Buford's Brie Smith (9) congratulates teammate Elexa Bahr (13) for scoring a goal Tuesday at Buford High School. - photo by Erin O. Smith

State finals: May 12-14 at Mercer University

Tickets: $12 per day

Four area soccer teams remain in the GHSA state soccer tournaments: Who will reach the state title game later this week at Mercer University in Macon?

Read more about your favorite remaining team as top-ranked Johnson tackles Buford, the East Hall boys host Savannah Arts Academy and the Buford girls tackle St. Pius X on Tuesday in the state semifinals.


Class AAAA

Buford (11-5-2) at No. 1 Johnson boys (19-0-1), 7:30 p.m.

Notes: Led by striker Fabian Abarca's 42 goals so far this season, undefeated Johnson was recently ranked the tenth-best boys spring soccer program in the nation, according to a recent poll by USA Today/National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

Abarca notched a hat trick against Pike County in the second round before scoring the game-winner in last week's quarterfinal against Southeast Whitfield. 

Goalkeeper Cooper Bowen has recorded eight shutouts so far for the top-ranked Knights. 

The Knights last reached the state title game two seasons ago, before falling to perennial power Dalton. 

Buford coach Victor Lane said this year's surprising playoff run is the product of his senior class, which endured back-to-back first-round playoff losses before finally breaking through in 2016.

Spurred by senior standouts such as center forward Colin Tarala (11 goals), center midfielder Joe Guiney (19 games played, four assists) and goalkeeper Will Davis (five shutouts, two so far in playoffs), the Wolves are operating on a different level, according to Lane. Buford fell 1-0 to Johnson in a region game earlier this season, but Lane said his team has learned how to adapt to Johnson's pace and power.

"The biggest thing is getting used to their pressure and pace," said Lane. "The first 20-25 minutes of that game, you know you're playing at a different level. ... You're going to have to earn it and play your best game to have a chance."

Buford's boys soccer team is seeking its first trip to the state title game in program history.

Buford's road to Macon: Buford entered the playoffs as a No. 4 seed from Region 8-AAAA and defeated Whitewater (1-0), Walnut Grove (3-0) and Grady (2-1) to reach semifinals

Johnson's road to Macon: Johnson  entered the playoffs as a No. 1 seed from Region 8-AAAA and defeated Fayette County (8-0), Pike County (6-4) and Southeast Whitfield (1-0) to reach semifinals

Who's next?: Winner takes on winner of Cairo- St. Pius X Catholic in state title game at Mercer University in Macon. 

Class AAA

No. 6 Savannah Arts Academy (16-3-1) at No. 1 East Hall (20-1), 5:30 p.m.

Notes: Senior striker Leo Toledo (74 goals so far this season) continues to shine for top-ranked East Hall after notching a hat trick over second-ranked Blessed Trinity in last week's quarterfinals. 

Tuesday's semifinal pits two of the state's most prolific offenses against each other. The Vikings have scored 134 goals in 21 games so far this season, an average of just under 6.4 goals per game. Meanwhile, Savannah Arts Academy has scored 121 goals in 20 games. 

East Hall is seeking its first trip to the state title game. The Vikings last made the semifinals back in 2013. 

"This senior class is extremely excited to get the chance to be back in the Final Four," said East Hall coach Chris Horton. "Seeing them around school, they're focused. Excited, but not overexcited. (Savannah Arts) is a team that could score a lot, so this could be one of our higher-scoring games."

East Hall's road to Macon: East Hall entered the playoffs as a No. 1 seed from Region 7-AAA and defeated Gordon Central (9-0), Peach County (10-1) and Blessed Trinity (4-3) to reach semifinals

Savannah Arts Academy's road to Macon: Savannah Arts Academy entered as a No. 1 seed from Region 1-AAA and defeated Jackson (9-1), Jackson County (5-0) and Calhoun (4-1) to reach semifinals. 

Who's next?: Winner takes on winner of Decatur/Oconee County in state title game at Mercer University in Macon.


Class AAAA

No. 2 St. Pius X (15-4-2) at No. 4 Buford girls (18-2), 5:30 p.m.

Notes: Buford fell to eventual state champions St. Pius X in last year's quarterfinal round. St. Pius X went on to defeat Marist 1-0 in the 2015 state championship game.

Striker Elexa Bahr, a South Carolina commit, has scored 25 goals and created 15 assists. Amber Shutts, the co-region Player of the Year, has notched 15 goals and a school-record 24 assists for the Lady Wolves. 

Buford has made the state semifinals five times, and is seeking its first trip to the state title game in program history. 

"I think my girls are ready to go," said Buford coach Drew Eager. "They've had their struggles with Pius in the past, but they've learned from them. They've got the mindset that we'll compete for everything we can."

Buford's defense has recorded 11 shutouts so far between the regular season and the playoffs. The Lady Wolves have conceded just 14 goals in 20 games this season. 

Buford is riding a 17-game win streak heading into the semifinals. St. Pius X has won the last 10 straight games.

Buford's road to Macon: Buford  entered the playoffs as No. 1 seed from Region 8-AAAA and defeated Fayette County (10-0), Spalding (6-1) and Grady (1-0) to reach semifinals

St. Pius X's road to Macon: St. Pius X  entered the playoffs as a No. 2 seed from Region 6-AAAA and defeated Southeast Whitfield (10-0), Veterans (2-0) and Whitewater (3-1) to reach semifinals

Who's next?: Winner takes on winner of Marist/Woodward Academy in state title game at Mercer University in Macon. 


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