Hector Holguin admitted late in the season that his Southeast Whitfield High School boys' soccer team sometimes needed a little adversity to play its best.
The Raiders, or Rage as the team prefers to be called, proved their coach right after overcoming a man-down situation after a red card early in the second half Thursday night to get past intracounty rival Northwest Whitfield 2-1 in the GHSA Class AAAA championship game at Mercer University in Macon.
The state title is the second in a row and third overall for Southeast (19-2-3), which won its first crown in 2017. Holguin's team overcame the loss of two key starters to injury earlier in the regular season, which ended with a 3-2 overtime win at Northwest in which the Raiders scored twice in the second period of the extra session.
Diego Ramirez, a reserve for Southeast, scored the title-winning goal after intercepting a pass from the Northwest goalkeeper and blasting a one-timer from 25 yards out into the upper right hand corner of the net with 16:53 remaining. The Raiders, despite the loss of Erick Rios to the red card just more than three minutes into the half, had maintained an aggressive approach instead of dropping back to protect the tie, finishing with five shots on goal in the final 20 minutes of action.
Southeast took a 1-0 lead with less than two minutes to play in the opening half when Diego Castillo headed home a free kick from Angel Garcia that hit Castillo in stride inside 10 yards. Northwest dominated possession most of the first half, finishing with a 7-2 advantage on shots, including a pair of good looks from season-leading scorer Nico Cuna, one of which hit the crossbar.
The Raiders had the lead despite a sloppy 40 minutes in which they committed 10 fouls and were called offside five times.
The red card gave the Bruins new life in the second half, leading to three consecutive set pieces. The third produced the tying goal when Cuna's free kick was headed home by Matthew Molina. Northwest (15-6-1), however, could not take advantage of the extra man, and it proved costly when Ramirez sent home his winner 19 minutes later.
The Bruins were going for the program's second state title; they won the AAAA championship in 2018.
Either way, Whitfield County was bound to come out of Thursday's showdown with yet another state champion from a program inside its border. On Tuesday, first-year Dalton Academy won the Class A public school title, and in Friday's Class AAAAAA final, Dalton High School's Catamounts will face Lassiter with a chance to win their third straight state title and seventh overall.
Last year, Coahulla Creek won the Class AAA title, giving the county three state champions - a feat that's close to happening again.
Pike County 8, Sonoraville 7: In the deciding game of a best-of-three series in the second round of the GHSA Class AAA playoffs, the Phoenix rallied from a 4-0 deficit with seven runs in the sixth inning, but the hosts tied it with three in the bottom half and one in the seventh to advance to next week's quarterfinals.
Zach Lyles keyed the big sixth inning for Sonoraville (23-9) with a two-run double, with Jaxon Pate and Cole Gross adding RBI singles. Josh Buffington and Coleman Johnson had RBI singles for Pike County (30-4) to make it a one-run game before Buffington stole home on a double steal to tie it.
In the seventh, two errors and an intentional walk loaded the bases for the Pirates, who won when the Phoenix committed another infield miscue.
Pate was 4-for-4 with an RBI, Lyles was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run, and Gross added two hits, an RBI and run for Sonoraville.
McCallie 18, Chattanooga Christian 1: In a TSSAA regular-season matchup, Nolan Sergeant drove in five runs, while Ethan Crump and Sebastian Leinberger each plated two runs for the Blue Tornado. Winning pitcher Austin Breedlove struck out eight batters in four innings.
Baylor 12, Boyd Buchanan 2: A 10-run first inning put the Red Raiders in control, and they added a run in each of the next two innings as well on their way to the lopsided win Wednesday. Henry Godbout had three hits and four RBIs to lead Baylor, and Carson Yates also drove in four runs.
Chattanooga Christian 4, Knoxville Webb 3: Erin Matthews went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, Hannah Smith was 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored and McKaine Layne drove in a run. Winning pitcher Autumn Hughes went 6 2/3 innings, scattering three hits and striking out 11 batters.
Boyd Buchanan 4, CAK 3: Cai Cai Butler went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, and Kinley Ervin struck out 14 as the Lady Buccaneers beat Christian Academy of Knoxville in a Division II-A East Region game despite being outhit 7-4.
Compiled by Stephen Hargis and Lindsey Young. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.