Dalton High School's bid for a third consecutive state championship in boys' soccer was thwarted Friday night, when Lassiter rallied from an early deficit to win 3-1 in the GHSA Class AAAAAA title match.
Dalton's Yahir Paez sent a shot home after a nice give-and-go play with Pablo Castillo 17 minutes in for the early lead, capping a strong start for the Catamounts in which they put up four early shots in Macon.
The game turned, though, when Dalton keeper Israel Soria was called for a penalty after catching a high pass in front of the goal just past the midway point of the first half with Dalton still up 1-0. The cause of the penalty was not clear — and it frustrated the Cats moving forward — but it led to Max Albertson's penalty kick goal against Dalton's backup keeper.
The 1-1 tie didn't last long as Colin Nedblake scored off a crossing pass just more than two minutes into the second half. Dalton's frustration grew as the more physical Trojans (19-2) consistently denied the Cats (17-2-3) any lengthy possessions and won the majority of balls in the air.
The physical play, however, did not lead to penalties. Ten minutes after Nedblake's goal, Dalton's Pablo Guerrero, a key playmaker, was injured on a hard tackle and did not return. Moments later, a Dalton player was shoved in the back and out of the Mercer University end zone after a contested pass, again with no call.
Dalton's large contingent of fans became irate two minutes later when the Lassiter keeper went high to catch a pass, then shoved the Dalton player down as he landed with the ball with no penalty called.
The Cats had two decent runs over the next 10 minutes, but Jairo Paz's shot from 25 yards out missed just right and Perez couldn't connect off a strong run down the left side. The Trojans, after one late Dalton run, caught the Cats off guard as Nedblake took a pass at midfield, made one defender miss and easily beat Soria for a 3-1 lead with 2:26 remaining.
Dalton was attempting to win its seventh state title, while Marietta's Lassiter (19-2) earned its first championship in boys' soccer and made it a AAAAAA sweep after the girls won the day's first game on penalty kicks for that program's second title.
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise strong week for area teams in GHSA boys' soccer state finals in Macon. On Tuesday, Dalton Academy won the Class A public title in its first year of competition. On Thursday, Southeast Whitfield repeated in Class AAAA with a victory against rival Northwest Whitfield.
Sale Creek 15, Lookout Valley 0: Brayden Grimes allowed just two hits and struck out four batters while pitching for the win, Camden Penny drove in three runs and Drew Hillian and Christian Moreno each drove in two for the Panthers.
Grace Academy 5, Notre Dame 4: The Golden Eagles scored four runs in the first three innings, with Jakob Martin driving in two, and winning pitcher Aiden McCarley scattered six hits and struck out six batters.
Compiled by Stephen Hargis and Lindsey Young. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prep roundup: In all-Whitfield final, Southeast boys beat Northwest to repeat as soccer state champs