Soccer semifinals

Harrison’s Averi Visage heads the ball the other way against Johns Creek during the the 2017 GHSA Class AAAAAA State Championship game at Mercer University Saturday. Visage and the Lady Hoyas will host Johns Creek in Tuesday’s at Bruce Cobleigh Stadium with hopes of returning to the state championship game. Staff-file

The Whitefield Academy boys will be playing for their second state title in three years when they will face Wesleyan at McEachern’s Walter Cantrell Stadium on Thursday for the Class A private school crown.

The Wolfpack (17-3) are peaking at the right time following a one-sided 5-0 win over Cobb County rival Walker in the semifinals Wednesday. It was Whitefield’s third straight playoff win over Walker dating back to 2016, with the previous win being for the 2017 state championship.

In its latest match against Walker, Whitefield dominated possession against Walker with Jason Dinchel and John Johnson scoring two goals apiece and West Peterson adding one.

“All I can ask of the boys is to give their best effort, and that is exactly what happened,” Whitefield coach Steve Hellier said. “We played as a team and communicated as a team, and all I ask (against Wesleyan) is that we put every effort into it.”

And the Wolfpack wouldn’t mind breaking even with Wesleyan on Thursday after falling 3-1 to Wesleyan in the second game of the season.

Harrison coach Jonathan Gross, who is working double duty this year as the boys and girls coach, has the Lady Hoyas back in the final four of the Class AAAAAA bracket.

They’re hosting Johns Creek in the state semifinals Tuesday. After beating the Lady Gladiators in penalty kicks to snap a scoreless tie two years ago in winning their third state title, the Lady Hoyas are anticipating another defensive battle between the teams.

Defenders Taylor Boyle and Hannah Becker have been stellar in the back as of late, helping Harrison (16-3-2) post shutout wins over Northview and Apalachee in the first two rounds of the postseason. Averi Visage having a solid season distributing at center midfield.

While the Lady Hoyas have more than reliable defenders, they’re anticipating Johns Creek to be defensively sound as well.

“To be honest, we’re mirror images of each other,” Gross said. “We have a similar formation. They have a great goalkeeper and are solid in the back. The big thing about playing a team like (Johns Creek) is that you have to be mentally prepared.”

Gross has stressed mental preparation all season, and there have been times where having a mental attitude has paid off.

The Lady Hoyas, who beat Houston County 4-2 in the quarterfinals last week, scored two unanswered goals in the first half and appeared to be cruising until Houston County came back with two unanswered to start the second half. Instead of panicking, Harrison responded with two more unanswered to seal the victory.

Another game where Harrison had to focus mentally was toward the beginning of the season when trailed by a goal against Kennesaw Mountain with 30 seconds left to play. The Lady Hoyas stayed focused and tied it in the final seconds of regulation before winning in overtime.

“Things haven’t always gone the way we wanted,” Gross said. “But you have to be mentally tough enough to be able to respond.”

The Pope boys are in the state semifinals for only the second time in their 30-year history.

The Greyhounds (15-3-3) were engaged in a seesaw battle against Tucker at home in the state quarterfinals. Trailing by a goal late in the second half,Tyler James and Ed Kokan scored back-to-back to take the lead, and Pope held on for a 3-2 victory.

Now the Greyhounds are on the road Tuesday to take on top-ranked Dalton (21-0).

“We’re going to have to be very disciplined against a team like that,” Pope coach Samer Kaddah said. “We have to take advantage of any opportunity that we get. From what we can tell, they have a lot of speed in their attack.”

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