May 13, 2014

Big step

Southeast travels, Dalton hosts in semis

The boys soccer team at Gainesville’s Johnson High School has connections to the programs at both Dalton and Southeast Whitfield where the state playoffs are concerned.

With Southeast, it’s obvious — the Knights will host the Raiders at 6:30 tonight in the Class 4A semifinals. With the Catamounts, one has to rewind to a year ago and the toughest match Dalton endured in its run to the championship.

Dalton and Southeast are each one win from meeting for the second year in a row in the Class 4A state title match, which will be played at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Kennesaw State University.

Standing in the way of Region 7 champion Dalton (20-0-1) is Region 4 winner Spalding (16-2-1), which will visit the Cats’ Harmon Field at 7 tonight in the other semifinal.

Dalton beat Southeast 5-0 in last year’s Class 4A championship to finish the season 22-0. The Cats’ closest match in 2013 — and the only one decided by a goal — was their 2-1 win over Johnson in the second round of the state playoffs.

Dalton and Johnson (20-1), the Region 8 champion, have traded the No. 1 and 2 spots in the eurosportscoreboard.com’s Class 4A rankings for much of the season. Dalton is currently first and Johnson is second, while Spalding is fourth and Southeast (14-5-2) is eighth.

“They’re very similar,” Southeast coach Kevin Kettenring said of Johnson compared to his Raiders and Dalton. “They’re quick, possess well out the back and have a lone sweeper. They have really quick forwards that put defenders under a lot of pressure.”

Dalton is undefeated in 43 consecutive matches, with the only draw a 2-2 result earlier this season against Dobyns-Bennett of Kingsport, Tenn. The Cats and Raiders have played seven times during the past two years, with Dalton winning each match by at least two goals, but Dalton and Johnson have faced off only once.

If the Cats beat Spalding tonight, then the state championship will showcase what should be a highly anticipated rematch one way or another.

Dalton coach Matt Cheaves couldn’t be upset about a whole lot following his team’s 10-0 destruction of Perry in Friday’s quarterfinals.

How will that translate to the next round?

“I think it’s important for us to recognize the things we did well,” he said. “We just have to talk about it and make sure mentally that we’re prepared to go into the game and stay positive no matter what happens.”

Cheaves said Sunday evening he hadn’t received much of a scouting report on Spalding. But awareness of the other team’s capabilities might not be that important if Dalton is at its best. In eight playoff matches the past two years, Dalton has won four by mercy rule (leading by 10 goals or more) and all but last year’s Johnson match were won by at least three goals. In this year’s state playoffs, the Cats have outscored opponents 24-1.

Those lopsided results can frustrate opponents, and Cheaves has been proud of his team’s calmness late in contests.

“There were a couple times our opponent got chippy and fouled,” he said of the match with Perry, “and I thought we did a good job keeping our heads level and staying focused.”

Southeast, the Region 7 runner-up, is the only non-region champion remaining in the Class 4A bracket. But that hasn’t stopped the Raiders from outscoring their opponents 9-1 through the first three rounds and defeating a region champion. They topped Region 2 No. 1 seed Statesboro 1-0 in Friday’s quarterfinals.

“It’s the semifinals,” Kettenring said. “The winner goes on and the loser thinks, ‘Man, we almost made it but didn’t.’

“That’s a lot of hard work not to make the final, but we’re planning on making it and surprising them.”

Southeast isn’t new to playing above expectations. The Raiders made last year’s title match as a No. 3 seed after upsetting rival Northwest Whitfield, last year’s Region 7-4A runner-up to Dalton, in the 2013 state semifinals.

The match with Johnson could be just as dramatic as that 2-0 victory against the Bruins, which required overtime to decide who was moving on.

Southeast sweeper Isael Gutierrez said the Raiders are aware of the talent Johnson has.

“As a team, we knew when Johnson won that it’d be a heck of a game,” he said. “As players, we have to worry about Johnson-Gainesville first. We (said) after the States-boro game to worry about Johnson. It’s basically the championship for us.”

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