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Statesboro takes aim at Perry in 1st round of state playoffs

#3 Perry at #2 Statesboro
5:30 p.m., Womack Field
Boys Class AAAA state playoffs

    For all of the ups and downs that the Statesboro boys’ soccer team has endured this season, the goal becomes very simple starting today.
    Win, and the Blue Devils get to keep playing. Lose, and their season is over.
    After a second place finish in last week’s region tournament, Statesboro has earned a No. 2 seed in the Class AAAA state playoffs. First up for the Devils will be No. 3 seed Perry as the postseason kicks off at 5:30 p.m. today at Womack Field.
    “Everyone has really been looking forward to this,” SHS coach Nick Thrower said. “Throughout the last week, we’ve been really focused. I definitely think that we’ll show up and walk on to the field as a prepared team.”
    Just a few weeks ago, it was tough to envision the Devils (8-9) having such a high seed as the state playoffs begin.
    Statesboro charged to a 5-0-1 start to begin the season and won its first three sub-region games before the wheels came flying off. The Devils won just once more during the regular season and scored just five goals over a nine-game span.
    As the Region 3-AAAA tournament got underway, the spark finally returned for the Devils. Statesboro crushed Hephzibah in the opening round to clinch a spot in the state playoff field, then outlasted Richmond Academy — winner of the northern sub-region — in a thriller that was decided on penalty kicks.
    The Devils fell short in the region championship game against South Effingham, but it’s safe to say that there is no confidence lost heading into today’s game.
    “We’ve looked at the tape from that game,” Thrower said. “I don’t think we got discouraged. We just learned from it. We’ve had a week of really competitive practices where we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We wanted to create the environment that we’re going to have to succeed in from here on out.”
    The Panthers come into today’s matchup as the lower seed, but are definitely a cause for concern for the Blue Devils.
    Perry’s directive style of play and athleticism is something that has given the Devils problems this season. South Effingham’s similar approach allowed Statesboro to possess the ball, but also found its own opportunities to create quick offensive strikes in a 5-1 win.
    Despite the loss last week, Statesboro welcomes another chance against a similar attack.
    “I think we know how to fix some of the things that hurt us,” Thrower said. “But we’re also expecting a big challenge. Perry is coming out of a very tough region. As much as we’re expecting to compete, we know that they’ve played a lot of very good teams and that they’ll be ready for us.”
    The winner of today’s game will advance to a second round game scheduled for May 8. The winner will face either Spalding (No. 1 seed out of Region 4-AAAA) or Westover (No. 4 seed from Region 1-AAAA).

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