May 6, 2014

Staying on the path

Smart play has Raiders soccer headed to Statesboro

In a sport where there are no timeouts and the activity is almost constant, Southeast Whitfield High School boys soccer coach Kevin Kettenring worried his players were over-thinking their approach instead of simply playing fluidly early in Tuesday’s Class 4A state tournament match against Lumpkin County.

When they finally had the opportunity to stop before putting things in motion, the Raiders made smart plays that led to a pair of first-half goals and finally got them moving.

Southeast won the second-round match 5-0 at Raider Stadium and secured a place in Friday’s quarterfinals — it’s the sixth time in seven seasons they’ve advanced at least that deep — and will travel to Statesboro, which won 4-2 in overtime against visiting Jonesboro in the second round.

Southeast (13-5-2) is the No. 2 seed from Region 7, while Statesboro (15-2) is the No. 1 seed from Region 3.

The Raiders lost 5-0 to intracounty rival Dalton in last year’s Class 4A championship, and returning to the title match has been on Southeast’s collective mind ever since. Two more tournament victories and the Raiders will have another shot at winning it all, and it might be against Dalton, which beat Lanier 3-0 in the second round.

“Last year was disappointing,” Southeast defender Diego Nuñez said. “... This year we’ve been practicing hard and hoping to get revenge, game by game. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. Hopefully we get there. That’s our main goal.”

Set plays benefited the Raiders in the first round of state — throw-ins played a part in setting up two of their goals in a 3-1 victory against visiting Columbus on Saturday — and they also helped the Raiders take control against the Indians (9-6-3).

In the 10th minute of Tuesday’s match, Jonathan Sanchez’s corner kick set up Victor Garcia’s goal for a 1-0 lead. Thirteen minutes later, Garcia’s throw-in from the right side was perfectly placed, glancing off Lumpkin County goalkeeper Noah Cromer’s hands before going into the net.

“Our set pieces are critical,” Garcia said. “We’ve scored a lot of goals from set pieces, from throw-ins, from free kicks. That’s really helped us a lot and changed the game a lot. We’ve gotten early goals these past two games, so that helps us a lot in how we gain momentum and play the rest of the game.”

Kettenring, who made quick substitutions early against Lumpkin County after not being satisfied with the chemistry he saw on the field, was glad to see something happen to help the Raiders play more like themselves.

“A lot of this game is stop thinking. Stop thinking about it,” he said. “... We talk about playing from the heart and sometimes you’ve got to leave the head alone and let it go. Stop thinking about it and just do it.”

Lumpkin County, the No. 4 seed from Region 8, earned its second-round meeting with Southeast thanks to a 2-1 win over Region 6 champion Chamblee. The Indians battled for possession well early against the Raiders, but the complexion of the game changed when the Raiders settled in for their early scores.

“They’re just so good at the set piece where they throw the ball in and target the back of the goal,” Lumpkin County coach Jansen Haight said. “That’s just really tough to defend, you know. My hat’s off to them. Their guys were very good at that. ... You could tell they’ve got that figured out.”

Southeast, which outshot the Indians 21-5, got second-half scores from Ramiro Guerrero (56th minute), Miguel Hernandez (69th minute) and Jamie Arenas (71st minute). Guerrero was assisted by Ronaldo Sandate, while Garcia assisted on Arenas’ score.

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