May 9, 2014

State soccer: Raiders win in Statesboro to return to semis

STATESBORO — Neither side backed down, but Southeast Whitfield High School’s boys soccer team was a little bit better than Statesboro on Friday.

Southeast’s Artemio Lopez slipped in a header for a goal off a throw-in from Victor Garcia in the 13th minute and the Raiders hung on for a 1-0 win in the Class 4A state quarterfinals at Womack Field.

Southeast (14-5-2) traveled 4 1/2 hours, played like a road-weary team and still left Statesboro with its fifth state semifinals appearance in seven seasons locked up. Southeast plays Tuesday at Johnson-Gaines-ville, which won 2-1 on Friday against Cai-ro, and will try to return to the state title match for the second straight season.

Tuesday’s other semifinals match will showcase defending state champion Dalton (which won 10-0 on Friday against Perry) against visiting Spalding (a 2-1 winner Friday against LaGrange).

Friday’s loss was the only setback in 12 home matches this season for Statesboro (15-3), the Region 1 champion. The Blue Devils were unable to make their home field an advantage despite Southeast’s journey from one end of the state to the other.

“It’s just a long trip,” said Southeast coach Kevin Kettenring, whose team finished runner-up in Region 7 to rival Dalton. “There’s no way to break this up. I told the guys it just looked like we were playing on a five-degree uphill slope. We were slow when we needed to be fast and fast when we needed to be slow, but we did enough. (Statesboro was) a good squad.”

The two teams played the first 10 minutes evenly before Southeast earned a few opportunities deep in Statesboro territory.

The Statesboro defenders did well to clear a threat, but Garcia launched the ensuing throw-in just a few yards in front of the Blue Devils’ net. Lopez managed to get in between defenders and squared up the ball as it cleared the heads of two of his teammates, and Statesboro goalkeeper Drew Funk didn’t have a chance on the solidly struck header as the Raiders took the lead.

“That was unfortunate,” Statesboro coach Nick Thrower said. “I felt like we played solid defense for most of the night. It was just one of those things where one guy got open and capitalized.”

Southeast continued to threaten the net as the first half gave way to the second. Three Southeast shots hit the post or crossbar and several others were just wide.

“It just was one of those matches,” Kettenring said. “You just have those types of matches on the road.”

 The Raiders outshot Statesboro 24-7 and Raiders goalkeeper Ivan Ortiz made five saves.

“As the game wore on, they threw more players up front,” Kettenring said. “So we made some adjustments defensively to get people in position to hold off the onslaught. That left them vulnerable in the back but we didn’t convert.”

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