The Class AAAAAA boys state soccer tournament final four features a pair of rising upstarts and a pair of perennial powers.
In one semifinal, the Alpharetta Raiders, making their first ever playoff appearance, travel to surprising Duluth at 6:30 p.m. tonight in a battle of contrasting styles.
Bolstered by a senior-laden defense, the Raiders are allowing 0.89 goals per game and have shut out six of their last seven opponents, including all three playoff foes. Seniors Omar Lewis, an All-Region 6-AAAAAA selection, and David Roel anchor the Alpharetta defense, with midfielders Clark Restivo and Stefan Jean also making key contributions to the Raiders’ best season in school history.
“We’ve broken pretty much every record, winning percentage, season wins,” coach Scott Cole, who has teamed with assistant Mike Cediel to change the culture and expectations at Alpharetta.
The Raiders finished below .500 last season and lost their last nine games in 2012-2013 season. They enter tonight’s game at 12-5-1.
The Raiders’ defensive unit will be tested by an explosive Duluth attack that is averaging nearly five goals per game. Alpharetta scored more than two goals in only two games this season.
Duluth senior attacking outside midfielders Carlos Delarosa and Alexander Garuba have been the offensive catalysts for the Wildcats, who captured the Region 7-AAAAAA title in what coach Adel Mohsen thought was going to be a rebuilding seasons. Instead, like Alpharetta, the Wildcats are making their deepest playoff run. Neither Alpharetta nor Duluth has won a boys state soccer championship.
There’s plenty of championship pedigree in the other AAAAAA final. Parkview hosts Brookwood at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday in a battle of Gwinnett County rivals. Brookwood, the defending AAAAAA champion, overcame a rocky stretch during the regular season and is putting together another playoff run. Parkview is the last team to beat Brookwood, 2-1, on April 21. Brookwood and Parkview have won or shared a total of eight state championships. Parkview last won the state title in 2005.
The state championship games will be held Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Mercer University in Macon. Class A and AAAA will play Thursday; Class AA and AAAAA on Friday, and Class AAA and AAAAAA on Saturday.
Other notable semifinals
Woodward Academy at St. Pius, 7:30 p.m.: The Golden Lions (20-0-0) have won two consecutive state championships and four in the last six seasons. They have surrendered only one goal in the playoffs and three on the season. They’ll host a powerful Woodward Academy squad that has won eight in a row. The St. Pius-Woodward Academy winner will face the Southeast Whitfield-Cross Keys winner.
Decatur at Calhoun, 7 p.m., Wednesday: One of the biggest surprises of the season, Decatur has reached the final four for the first time since winning the 2003 state championship. The Bulldogs (10-8-1) went 4-13 last seasons, but advanced to the AAA semifinals with wins over Washington County, Sonoraville and Dawson County. Calhoun is 19-0-1 on the season. The Decatur-Calhoun winner will face the West Hall-Oconee County winner.