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Raiders end Statesboro run
050914 SHS SOCCER 01 WEB
Statesboro's Alex Wagner, center left, and Wesley Budget, bottom center, are sandwiched by Southeast Whitfield defenders Christian Gonzalez, top left, and Isael Gutierrez as they all go for a header during the second half of Friday's state quarterfinal at Womack Field. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Facing the defending state runners-up in Class AAAA soccer, Statesboro never wilted, but could never find the net.
    Southeast Whitfield’s Artemio Lopez slipped in a header off a throw-in from Victor Garcia just 13 minutes into the action and the Raiders hung on the rest of the way for a 1-0 win Friday night at Womack Field.
    The loss stands as the Devils’ only setback in 12 home games this year while Southeast Whitfield now advances to the state semifinals against Johnson of Gainesville next week.
    “I think this was just a case of two good teams battling,” SHS coach Nick Thrower said. “I thought our guys played hard throughout the game. There were just a few opportunities missed and that made all the difference.”
    The Blue Devils victimized many opponents this season off of set pieces, but the Raiders were able to beat Statesboro at its own game.
    The two sides played the first 10 minutes evenly before the Raiders saw a few opportunities deep in SHS territory. The Statesboro back line did well to clear a threat, but Garcia launched the ensuing throw-in just a few yards in front of the Devils’ net.
    Lopez managed to get in between defenders and squared up the ball as it cleared the heads of two of his teammates. Statesboro goalkeeper Drew Funk didn’t have a chance on the solidly struck ball as the Raiders took the lead.
    “That was unfortunate,” 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.”
    Whitfield continued to threaten the net as the first half gave way to the second.
    Shots by Raider forwards and midfielders hit the posts and crossbar of the Statesboro goal three times and sailed just wide on several more occasions.
    The Devils were able to maintain their fair share of possession, but could never get their offense set up.
    As the clock wound down, tired Devils began to press forward.
    Alex Wagner looked to have an open run on the net from the top of the Whitfield 18-yard box with five minutes to play before the side judge’s flag signaled offside.
    Statesboro’s last best chance came on a corner kick — the Devils’ only one of the game — with just under three minutes to go. The cross sailed into the 6-yard box, but the Raider defense cleared the ball without issue.
    Whitfield was able to avoid any more threats and kept the ball near midfield before starting the celebration as the final seconds ticked away.
    The Raiders will get to stay a bit closer to their north Georgia home as they travel to Gainesville next week to play for a spot in the Class AAAA state championship game.
    Friday’s loss marked the final game for Statesboro’s 13 seniors.
    Wholesale changes will have to be made to next season’s roster, but the Devils are confident that they can pick up where they’re leaving off after making their first state quarterfinal appearance since 2009.
    “I’m really proud and appreciative of our seniors,” Thrower said. “They’ve done so much to get us this far. It’s going to be tough to say goodbye to them. A lot of new guys will need to step up next season, but I think everyone now sees what it takes to play at the level we want to be at each season.”

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.