Sunday May 29th, 2016 12:27AM

Soccer: Johnson rides Perez's goal, stout defense to first ever title game

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor

Johnson 1, Southeast Whitfield 0

Class AAA
Oconee County 2, West Hall 0
St. Pius 4, North Hall 0


Johnson vs. Dalton -- 2:30 p.m. at Kennesaw State University
Related Articles
  Contact Editor
OAKWOOD -- The Johnson boys soccer team thought it saw an advantage it could exploit over Southeast Whitfield.

On Tuesday, Barut Perez turned that thought into a winning reality.

Perez soared above two Southeast Whitfield defenders to head home a free kick late in the first half of the two teams' Class AAAA semifinal in Oakwood -- a goal the Knights defense made stand, as Johnson secured a 1-0 victory and its first ever state championship appearance.

"We had them scouted and had seen they didn't always defend set pieces very well, so we though we had an advantage there," Johnson coach Brian Shirley said. "And we have executed well on set pieces all season."

The victory set up a tantalizing championship showdown at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Kennesaw State University, where the Knights will face defending Class AAAA champ Dalton. It was also the sole success on the day for three area soccer programs, as West Hall and North Hall each lost in Class AAA semifinal matches.

The Knights (21-1) needed plenty of determination to avoid a similar fate, and thanks to defenders like Alberto Deltoro, it was never a question of heart for Johnson.

"He had it locked down back there," Shirley said of his sweeper. "That had to be one of our top defensive games of the season."

The Knights needed their best in the back, especially over the opening 25 minutes, as Southeast Whitfield used an aggressive and direct attack, mixed with corner kicks and long throw-ins to keep Johnson under pressure.

Once Perez struck, however, the Knights began to take control, eventually stifling the Raiders in the second half and easing toward the title tilt.

"We didn't play well for the first 20 minutes; then we got a rhythm and really took it to them," Shirley said. "We definitely should be satisfied; we still didn't play a full 80 minutes, but we have another shot to do that."

The game commenced with a physical, back-and-forth battle in midfield, as the two teams looked for traction.

Southeast Whitfield found it first, as Artemio Lopez forced an early save from Johnson goalkeeper Ivan Salcido -- who was alert to snag a bouncing free kick that could have caused trouble but for Salcido's safe hands five minutes into the game.

Six minutes later, Raiders' midfielder Victor Garcia lined up a 30-yard shot that clipped off the Johnson crossbar before bouncing to safety.

No sooner had Southeast Whitfield begun to take control of the game, than the Knights pulled off a lightning strike counter that ended in a 1-0 lead.

Latching on to a loose ball, Perez charged down the left wing and drew a foul just outside the Raiders penalty area -- setting the stage for Perez's real heroics, as the senior rose to power home a perfectly curled free kick from Fabian Abarca.

"We always practice that, going to the back post," Perez said. "I was kind of surprised I was able to get enough space back there, but I knew I had to give it my all. You can't be afraid of headers, and you have to go in with everything you've got to win 50-50 balls. I guess I won that one."

The strike, which ricocheted off Raiders goalkeeper Ivan Ortiz, yielded a 1-0 lead with 13:27 remaining and turned the tide of the contest -- Johnson growing in confidence and gaining more and more offensive possession in the minutes following.

Not that it was one-way traffic, however, and Southeast Whitfield so nearly found an equalizer before the interval.

Lopez met a Raiders corner kick with a glancing header that appeared goal-bound, only to watch Israel Avila intercept -- though his clearance attempt bounced off the underside of the Knights crossbar before Johnson goalkeeper Ivan Salcido gratefully cradled the ball in his arms with just a minutes left in the half.

The escape allowed the Knights to continue their surge into the second half, where they kept the Raiders from building sustained momentum. In fact, the only real scoring opportunities of the second 40 minutes came from Johnson, as Abarca forced a reflex save from Ortiz before Jeffrey Cabrales rolled a 15-yard shot just inches wide of the Southeast Whitfield goalpost.

"We need to work on our finishing, but it was a great effort from everyone today," Shirley said.

Johnson will look for one more winning effort on Saturday, facing a Dalton team that knocked the Knights from the postseason in a 2-1 defeat in last year's second round -- the only close contest the Catamounts faced in the 2013 playoffs.

"It's going to take everything; everyone giving their heart (to win on Saturday)," said Perez, who added that effort shouldn't be a question for a team full of veterans that have spent years on the pitch together. "The whole team is full of seniors, and we've been playing together since middle school and even before that."
© Copyright 2016
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
2014 Top 10: Looking back at the top sports stories of the year
It was another year for the record books in 2014, mostly for the right reasons -- state championships, new challenges and new stars taking their turn to shine. But there were also plenty of big stories that reminded us that sports -- like life -- isn
11:55PM ( 1 year ago )
NASCAR K&N Pro Series schedules set for 2015
DAYTONA BEACH, FL - NASCAR announced recently the 2015 schedules for its top developmental regional touring series, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.
2:00PM ( 1 year ago )
Lanierland boys final: Johnson makes history with win over Red Elephants <b> (VIDEO) </b>
Ever the aggressor on the court, Johnson
8:55AM ( 1 year ago )
Lanierland boys semifinals: Unbeatens Johnson, Red Elephants roll into finals
Both Gainesville and Johnson powered their way into the Lanierland Tournament finals on Monday. The two undefeated teams will meet Tuesday for the title at 8:30 p.m. at Chestatee.
10:01AM ( 1 year ago )
Lanierland girls semifinals: GHS, Lady Falcons advance to finals <b> (VIDEO) </b>
Flowery Branch and Gainesville each took impressive wins Monday to advance to the Lanierland Tournament finals...
10:00AM ( 1 year ago )
Girls basketball: Lady Tigers advance to Pickens Holiday finals
The Dawson County girls basketball advanced to the finals of the Pickens Holiday Classic after an 81-54 win over Riverwood Monday.
11:48PM ( 1 year ago )
High School Sports
Baseball: Panthers, Dragons dominate Region 8-AAA All-Region selections
Region 8-AAA continued to be a major player in Class AAA in 2016 with Jackson County getting within one win of the state championship round.
9:23AM ( 8 hours from now )
Baseball: 2016 Region 7-AAA All-Region team
After a rebounding season for Region 7-AAA as a whole, the 2016 Region 7-AAA All-Region baseball team was released on Friday.
8:10AM ( 7 hours from now )
Fresh tires propel Hamlin to Charlotte Xfinity win
In an event that bore notable similarities to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race a week earlier, Denny Hamlin won Saturday’s Hisense 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a pass on the final lap.
By Reid Spencer-NASCAR Wire Service
11:26PM ( 1 hour ago )
Braves beat Marlins 7-2 to lock up first home series win
Braves interim manager Brian Snitker says Gordon Beckham is "bouncing around like he's a teenager."
By The Associated Press
8:31PM ( 3 hours ago )
Golf: Ralston, Forrester amongst 11 area golfers named All-State
Gainesville's Spencer Ralston was named Class AAAAA boys player of the year, while North Hall's Bartley Forrester was named first team for Class AAAA boys in the 2016 Georgia High School Golf Coaches Association (GHSGCA) All-State team released this week.
By AccessWDUN Staff
7:19PM ( 5 hours ago )