Sunday February 7th, 2016 4:53PM

Three semifinals, two quarterfinals on tap for area programs

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
Track and tennis are finished, and most of the area's other spring sports squads are already thinking about next year -- except for five focused and excited teams that will continue their postseason runs this week.

Three area soccer programs will compete in the state semifinals on Tuesday, as North Hall and West Hall head on the road in Class AAA and Johnson plays host to its fourth straight playoff match in Class AAAA.

Meanwhile, the Gainesville and Buford baseball teams will get the quarterfinal round started with home doubleheaders on Tuesday. Both the Red Elephants Wolves arrive in the round of eight with plenty of expectations, and the Region 7-AAA and 8-AAAAA champions will believe that they are in great position to keep their championships hopes alive.

Certainly the title hopes of the Johnson, West Hall and North Hall soccer teams are very much kicking, as each program will make their first semifinal appearances in several seasons.

The Spartans were here most recently -- having played in the 2009 Class AAA championship -- and will look to get back into the title game against an Oconee County squad that knocked West Hall out of the 2013 playoffs. The Warriors pulled a 2-0 upset at West Hall in last season's second round, and the Spartans will look to return the favor this week in Watkinsville. West Hall will hope to repeat its semifinal performance of 2009, when the Spartans blanked Oconee County 2-0 in Watkinsville.

North Hall, meanwhile, will be making its first state semifinal in almost 20 years when it travels south to face St. Pius on Tuesday in Atlanta. The Trojans won't mind heading back on the road after winning three straight contests away from The Brickyard to get into the final four. St. Pius' Maloof Stadium has often been a horror ground for area teams, but North Hall will not be intimidated -- not only because of their form, but due to the fact that fellow 7-AAA competitor Dawson County pushed the Golden Lions to the brink in the second round. And 7-AAA's West Hall already knocked out Region 6-AAA champion Woodward Academy -- which defeated St. Pius earlier this season -- in the second round.

In Class AAAA, Johnson is back in the semifinals for the first time since 2005 and will get to stay at home in search of a championship game berth. Tuesday's opponent will offer perhaps the toughest trial faced this season, however, in Southeast Whitfield. The Raiders played in last year's Class AAAA championship game, finishing second to fellow Region 7-AAAA foe Dalton.

Both the Class AAA and Class AAAA boys state championship games will take place on Saturday, the AAAA contest at Kennesaw State and the AAA finale at Emory University.

There will be no lack of action on Tuesday, as two baseball doubleheaders get underway in the afternoon.

Gainesville will play host to Starr's Mill in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals. Having reached the third round in three straight seasons, the Red Elephants will hope to use Tuesday as a launch point for a deeper run, looking to get back to the semifinals for the second time in those three years.

It won't come easy against a Starr's Mill team that edged out Region 1-AAAAA champion Harris County in three games last week, including a razor-thin 9-8 win in Game 3. Starr's Mill is led by Ryan Avidano and Adam Goodman, two pitchers committed to the University of Georgia. Gainesville, meanwhile, has put together back-to-back two-game sweeps and will look to keep rolling.

Buford, meanwhile, will take on a Pike County team that replaced the Wolves as the No. 1 team in the Class AAA rankings at the end of April.

The Pirates needed three games to knock off Southeast Bulloch in the second round of the state playoffs, while the Wolves are coming off two dominating series, having allowed just five runs in four games -- a first and second round sweep.

The two teams have some history, having met in the 2011 Class AA championship -- a series that Buford won 2-1, dropping Game 1 10-3 before storming back with two straight wins: 14-4 and 5-1.

It should all make for a thrilling few days, as the clock ticks toward the end of the high school sports campaign.

Tuesday, May 13
BASEBALL -- State quarterfinal doubleheaders:
Starr's Mill at Gainesville, 4 p.m.
Class AAA
Pike County at Buford, 4:30 p.m.

SOCCER -- boys state semifinals
Southeast Whitfield at Johnson
West Hall at Oconee County
North Hall at St. Pius

Wednesday, May 14
BASEBALL -- State quarterfinal doubleheaders:
Game 3 if necessary

Saturday, May 17
SOCCER -- State championship games
AAAA boys -- 2:30 p.m. at Kennesaw State
AAA boys -- 7:30 p.m. at Emory
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