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ZEBULON — More than 17 minutes into the second half, the Southeast Bulloch boys clung tightly to a 2-1 lead it carved out in the first 40 minutes over Pike County in the second round of the GHSA Class AA state soccer playoffs.
Yellow Jacket defenders fought off wave after wave of the Pirates attack, as goalie Riley Dinkins made several tough saves. But, finally, Pike broke through on a scoring shot after a corner kick with 21:57 to play and pulled ahead 3-2 four minutes later. SEB couldn’t mount enough pressure to score the equalizer and Pike advanced to the state quarterfinals with the 3-2 victory Wednesday on its home field.
“We fought to the end,” said Southeast Bulloch coach Bob Massee. “We left everything we had on the field against a team that could win the state title. I am very proud of the team.”
The loss ends one of the most successful boys’ soccer seasons in SEB’s history. The Jackets finished with a 10-7 record, including a 7-3 road win over Berrien County in the first round of the state playoffs. Pike County, the top seed out of Region 4-AA, advances to play host to Westminster High School out of Atlanta in the state quarterfinals Saturday.
Two minutes into the game, it looked like leading scorer Doug Flott would give SEB an early lead when he broke in on goal, but a Pike defender was able to poke the ball as Flott shot and he hit the side of the net.
Three minutes later, the Pirates took a 1-0 lead at the 35:24 mark on a strong left-footed boot over Dinkins’ outstretched hand.
With freshman forward Patrick Chambers working hard, SEB had a couple of good chances to tie the score, but hit the side of the net two more times.
Under strong pressure, Pike County kicked the ball out of bounds right near its goal line setting up junior sweeper Drew Ware for his specialty — the long throw in. Prior to Wednesday’s game, eight throw ins from Ware had directly resulted in goals. Ware made it nine with another long toss that Cameron Duncan headed in for the equalizer at the 16:50 mark.
The Jackets kept up the attack and eight minutes before halftime, Flott took a pass from James Jones, beat a defender to the left side, stopped and then slipped a shot past the Pirate keeper for a 2-1 lead.
“We led 2-1 at the half and it could have been more,” Massee said. “I thought we had a chance to possibly put them away.”
The second half was a different story. With 10 seniors, Pike proved why it is one of the favorites to win the Class AA title and dominated play for most of the final 40 minutes. The SEB defense finally gave way to the pressure and two goals in a four-minute span proved the difference.
“We ran out of gas there at the end, but I can’t fault our effort,” Massee said.
After the game Massee, who is in his first year as head coach, told the team some people cautioned him last year against taking the job.
“They said we couldn’t put together a winning program here,” he said. “Well, I believe we have built a foundation and we’re only going to get better. You proved those people wrong. We’ll be back and we’ll be better next year.”
James Healy can be reached at (912) 489-9402.