GHSA Class AAA quarterfinals
ST. PIUS X 1, SOUTHEAST WHITFIELD 0
Halftime score: 1-0. Goal: Alex Kowalski. Shots on goal: St. Pius, 8-6. Saves: Abel Mendiola 6 (SE); Ryan Beck 4 (SP). Records: St. Pius X 17-2-1; Southeast 16-1-1.
GHSA Class AA quarterfinals
BLESSED TRINITY 3, CALHOUN 1
Halftime score: 2-0. Calhoun goal: Alex Hernandez, 51st minute. Calhoun assist: Francisco Centero. Shots: Blessed Trinity, 14-10. Saves: Blessed 3; Paul Moreno 3 (C). Record: Calhoun 15-4-1.
DALTON, Ga. -- As the final buzzer sounded, signaling Southeast Whitfield's 1-0 loss to St. Pius X in the Georgia Class AAA soccer state quarterfinals Friday, senior defender Edgar Cruz collapsed in tears.
Midfielder Christian Lopez, who played most of the match with a heavily bandaged arm six days after a car accident, slumped into a teammate's arms, tearful as well.
The Raiders knew at that moment how close they had come to "slaying the dragon" on their home field.
The Golden Lions got their goal on a penalty kick by Alex Kowalski in the 34th minute of an otherwise even match between two of the top three teams in the state.
"I put my all into this season, and when you do that, the emotions come out," a tearful Southeast coach Jamison Griffin said.
Southeast (16-1-1) played without forward Alex Rosillio, who has a leg injury.
Kowalski's opportunity came after a foul was called on Southeast's Josue Acosta for tripping Edmundo Robinson in the box. Griffin protested the call initially, but the penalty kick was awarded and Kowalski fired a low shot into the back corner of the net.
After the goal, Kowalski ran toward the student section with his arms out wide in celebration, much to the displeasure of Griffin.
"I was disappointed in some of the actions on the field, but that trickles down from the top," he said.
The second half turned into a free-for-all, both with the action on the field and chippiness at times. The officials assessed three yellow cards, but the Raiders at times had the better of the play, especially with a couple of close opportunities in the box. On one occasion, Lopez found a ball bouncing inside the 6-yard mark and fired a shot that keeper Ryan Beck got a foot on.
"In the second half, the ball was on our side quite a bit. There were many times that we controlled our own destiny," Griffin said. "We played our game in the second half, whereas in the first half we allowed them to dictate the action."
Beck was found outside of the box earlier in the half, and with the open net, Acosta nailed a shot toward the goal that was headed out of bounds.
"I thought our defense played solid," St. Pius coach David O'Shea said. "[Defender] Ryan Hood cleaned everything up in the back, and we had some good distribution from the fullbacks."
For the fifth time in Griffin's career, the Golden Lions (17-2-1) ended the Raiders' season. The one-goal deficit marks the narrowest margin of defeat.
"We didn't lose this match; the ref made a call," he said. "In my mind, we didn't lose this game; the referee made a call. They [refs] are humans, and humans are fallible."
• Blessed Trinity 3, Calhoun 1: In a Class AA quarterfinal, the Yellow Jackets' strong season ended on the road against the state's top-ranked team. Down 2-0, Calhoun (15-4-1) scored early in the second half on an Alex Hernandez goal from a Francisco Centero assist.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.