Dawson County boys at Athens Academy, 5:30 p.m.
Hebron Christian boys at Union County, 7 p.m.
Cedartown boys at Gainesville, 7:30 p.m.
Johnson boys at Carrollton, 7:30 p.m.
Johnson girls at Heritage-Catoosa, 5 p.m.
North Oconee girls at Dawson County, 5:30 p.m.
Gainesville girls at Carrollton, 6 p.m.
Tickets: The GHSA sets ticket price at $7 for all first round games.
The Gainesville High girls’ soccer team had a playoff mentality long before they even qualified for the postseason.
As a result, the No. 4 seeded Lady Red Elephants (10-5) are quite familiar with the mindset needed for a single-elimination tournament heading into Saturday’s first-round playoff game at No. 9-ranked Carrollton.
“We’ve played a lot of tough games, said Gainesville coach Mark Wade. “This is just another test for our team.”
Before spring break, Gainesville was behind the eight ball and needed wins against Chestatee, Flowery Branch, Lumpkin County and North Hall just to stay in the playoff hunt.
Once they cleared that hurdle, the Lady Red Elephants lost a game against Johnson for the third seed from Area 7-AAA, but rebounded with a win in the season finale against West Hall to get into the playoffs, holding a tie-breaker advantage against Flowery Branch.
Wade says that playing out of Area 7-AAA will serve as a benefit now that the Lady Red Elephants are in a pool designed for the top 32 teams in the state.
And the way the Lady Red Elephants found their way to the playoffs out of a talented region can only help.
“Area 7-AAA is one of the toughest from top to bottom in the state,” Wade said. “But we know that Carrollton is going to be a tough game.
“They are athletic, fast and like to play high-pressure soccer.”
Of course, the Gainesville girls aren’t alone in drawing a challenging first-round matchup. The Johnson boys (12-4) had a successful season in Area 7-AAA, winning nine of 11 games, but a head-to-head loss to Lambert sends the Knights into the postseason carrying the No. 3 seed.
With that, Johnson visits No. 5 Carrollton (12-6) at 7:30 tonight, and are part of a stout bracket that includes Oconee County (18-0) and Woodward Academy (14-3); each of which are competing for only one spot in the state semifinals.
Of course, Lambert doesn’t have it any easier. A first-round win would pit the Longhorns (14-3) against St. Pius X (15-0-1), which is ranked No. 8 nationally.
“Our kids are in the mindset that if you’re going to be the best, you got to beat the best,” Johnson coach Brian Shirley said. “Our team has been tested with a lot of tough games this season.”
Shirley says that brackets are going to be challenging no matter which classification you play: The top two ranked teams in Class AAAAA — Northview and Lassiter — faced in the first round Tuesday night.
“We just have to play the cards that are played to us,” Shirley added.
Meanwhile, Gainesville’s boys (14-0) will be playing with a full deck against Cedartown (12-5) thanks to the return of midfielder Monish Lahiry from a trip to play in England, and forward Russ Puckett, who is back to full health from a previously sprained knee.
During Lahiry’s absence the past month, Gainesville coach Rick Howard has developed role players that will be an added benefit to come off the bench in the playoffs. Equally as important, the Red Elephants get to play at home.
“Our team is confident but not over confident,” Howard said. “The key to the playoffs is to keep your composure and to keep moving forward.”