Dalton High School midfielder Alan Pantaleon likes beating a rival soccer team three times in one season.
The senior hopes he and his Cat-amounts do it again in three days.
Pantaleon scored two of Dalton’s goals in a 3-0 win against Southeast Whitfield in Friday’s Region 7-4A tournament semifinals at Harmon Field. The Cats once again proved they were a notch above by beating the Raiders for the third time this season, including the second time in eight days.
The result, plus Northwest Whitfield’s 5-1 win at River Ridge, means the Bruins (13-4) and Cats (16-0) each will play at least one round of the Class 4A state playoffs at home and face each other Tuesday at Harmon Field for the region championship.
Dalton, the No. 1 team in eurosportscoreboard.com’s Class 4A poll, beat fourth-ranked Northwest 6-1 and 3-1 during the regular season. The Cats beat the sixth-ranked Raiders 3-1 and 2-0 earlier, with the latter win on April 12.
“It feels great,” Pantaleon said. “Right now we’re just focusing on the final. ... I want to play (Northwest) again and beat them three times.”
As had the Cats and Bruins, the Raiders (8-4-1) had already clinched a spot in the playoffs, but will play River Ridge on Tuesday for the region’s No. 3 seed for the state playoffs one year after claiming a region championship.
With the Raiders already trailing 1-0 at halftime on Friday, Dalton scored a quick goal in the second half. Even worse, Raiders coach Kevin Kettenring classified it as a “soft goal,” one Southeast gave just as much as Dalton earned. Pepe Gardea’s long free kick in the 43rd minute sailed uncontested over the Raiders defenders and Pantaleon was within 5 yards of the goal when he volleyed the ball past a helpless Abel Mendiola, Southeast’s goalkeeper.
“You just can’t do that with a good team like this,” Kettenring said. “A preventable goal, that’s what I mean by soft.”
In the 82nd minute, Dalton striker Ramiro Huitanda, known for finishing chances, passed one up.
After Southeast’s defense lost possession and Huitanda carried the ball toward the goal, he drew the last Raiders defender and passed across the field to Pantaleon, whose shot from atop the penalty box was low enough to get past Mendiola and just inside the far post.
Pantaleon thought Huitanda would shoot. Dalton coach Matt Cheaves hoped he wouldn’t.
“I didn’t know, because he tried to give one up earlier and it got picked off,” Cheaves said.
For the first 25 minutes, there was no difference between Sub-region 7B’s No. 1 seed, Dalton, and the third seed, Southeast. While the Cats earned two shots on goal to the Raiders’ none, the visitors had many more set plays and possession was fairly even. In the 33rd minute, Javier Rodriguez scored off a cross from Daniel Palacios to break the scoreless tie.
“In the third time playing them, they figured out pretty good what we do,” Cheaves said. “We had to redirect our attack. ... We just went to a different spot. Normally, we like to attack to a certain place and they figured that out. We started acting like we were going there and switching it the other way.”
Kettenring said an injury to defender Diego Nunez may have led to Dalton’s score.
“We were fired up, ready to play,” Kettenring said. “That was evident. Then we had to make a change. Diego had a pulled hamstring, and we had to change an outside midfielder for an injury.”
Each team ended with eight shots on goal; Dalton goalkeeper Raymundo Bahena made four saves and Mendiola made two.
• Northwest boys 5, River Ridge 1: If a Bruins win was ever in doubt at River Ridge, it wasn’t for long.
Northwest helped prove 7B-4A as the dominant sub-region. Northwest, the No. 2 seed from 7B-4A, led 4-0 at halftime against Sub-region 7A’s top seed.
“We came out with a lot of intensity,” Bruins coach Ryan Scoggins said. “I think these guys understand at this point in the year — they know we have to play our best soccer. Those first 20 minutes or so were just great.”
Christian Perez scored twice, while David Perez had a goal and an assist and Giovanni Aguero scored once. Cielo Nunez scored Northwest’s fifth goal and gave his team its 5-0 advantage. The Bruins used substitutes for the final 15 minutes as the Knights scored their lone goal.
Northwest took 24 shots to River Ridge’s seven.
This is the first time in Scoggins’ 10 years coaching at Northwest that the program will host a state playoffs game. It’s also the first time the Bruins will play for a region championship.
Going against rival Dalton only adds to it all.
“We’re excited about it,” Scoggins said. “Dalton is a great team. We’re excited about the opportunity to play Dalton a third time and also excited to play for a region title.”
• River Ridge girls 4, Northwest 1: Juliana Gomez’s goal eight minutes into the second half cut the host Lady Knights’ lead to 3-1, but that was the biggest threat provided by the Lady Bruins (10-2), who missed out on the chance to host in the opening round of the Class 4A state playoffs with the Region 7-4A tournament semifinals loss.
“Our first half was a little rough,” Northwest coach Anna Stutts said. “Size-wise, they’re a lot bigger than us, and I think that might have gotten into our heads. In the second half we came out a lot better. But this was a very physical match.”
Gomez made a long shot from outside the 18-yard box to give hope after Northwest trailed 3-0 at halftime. Gracie Holmes finished with 18 saves for the Lady Bruins, who will play for third place on Tuesday. They’ll face the loser of Monday’s match between Cass and Heritage-Catoosa, either hosting Cass or traveling to Heritage.