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Lady Blue Devils fall just short of championship

    The Statesboro girls soccer team had their first region title since 1999 dead in their sights, but on  Tuesday night the trophy just barely slipped through  their grasp.
    Despite a strong second half, Statesboro couldn’t overcome two first half goals by Wayne County, falling 2-1 in Jesup. The Blue Devils’ 3-1 win over Wayne on March 28 gave both teams one region loss — setting up Tuesday’s de facto title game. Even while missing out on a region title will sting, head coach Brian Thomas says his team still has plenty to look forward to.
    “They’ll get the day off tomorrow and we’re going to come back and host a state playoff game,” Thomas said. “We still have the second seed, I know it doesn’t sound like much of a consolation now, but it’s still something.”
    The last time Statesboro hosted a playoff game was 2013 when the Blue Devils beat Rutland 3-0. Down 2-1 on Tuesday, Statesboro had a chance to take the game to overtime and possibly steal the title with a shot from six yards out with five minutes to play, but — as was the case with most scoring chances — the ball landed right at the keeper.
    Wayne County keeper Terren Ward rebounded after being scored on three times in her first go around with Statesboro. Ward was in front of every ball Statesboro kicked with the exception of a second half strike by Isabella Gutierrez.
    Even while playing three forwards for the final 15 minutes of the game, Statesboro couldn’t find the right shots to equalize.
    “One thing I can say about this group is that we don’t point fingers or blame anyone for our mistakes,” Thomas said. “They never quit in that game. We nearly fought back to make things different.”
    Statesboro will finish the season 10-5 with a 6-2 mark in region. The only two losses came against Wayne and a 1-0 loss at South Effingham.
    Statesboro will graduate just three players from this years team. And so long as the girls continue to develop, there’s no reason why Statesboro won’t be in the mix for a region title in 2018. But for now the girls will take second place and a tentative matchup with Locust Grove next week — and Thomas says that how things go in the playoffs will ultimately determine if his team’s 2017 season was a success or not.
    “We won’t know how successful we were until we play next week,” Thomas said. “How far we go will determine that.”