Lacrosse: Road to championship ends Saturday

ajc.com

We are down to the semifinals, which will be played Tuesday and Wednesday. The championships are Saturday.

Before we dive in to the current field, let’s briefly discuss the bombshell that dropped last week in Class 6A-7A, where the No. 2 Roswell Hornets were eliminated due to forfeit after a school investigation uncovered rules violations, which were self-reported to the GHSA. That resulted in the Hornets forfeiting their first-round playoff win over Carrollton.

Roswell officials have declined to specify which rules were broken, but acknowledged in an open letter written by principal Robert Shaw that the school will be fined, and that the program must forfeit an untold number of games.

Regardless of who did what, this is an incredibly sad development for the Hornets, obviously. The seniors last got to see their season end organically, on the field, when they were sophomores in 2018. And this wasn’t a middling team with meager expectations — the Hornets were a title contender.

It’s always unfortunate when an entire program of kids, the majority of whom did nothing wrong, must pay the consequences for the actions of a small few — but that’s the hand they’ve been dealt.

Moving on to those teams still playing...

For the most updated boys and girls brackets, visit GHSA.net. For the rankings heading into the playoffs, go here.

Note: Scores, records and national rankings sourced from MaxPreps.

6A-7A Boys

The unranked Centennial Knights (11-6) play at the No. 3 Allatoona Buccaneers (19-2), and the No. 4 Johns Creek Gladiators (16-4) travel to the No. 1 Lambert Longhorns (19-1).

With Johns Creek and Lambert, it’s a rematch from March 6, when the Longhorns won handily on the road, 14-8. With this game being played at Lambert, it’s hard to envision a different outcome for the Gladiators. The national rankings have Lambert at No. 10 and Johns Creek at 21, so they’re in the same area code from a competition standpoint. Still, it would be a major upset if the Gladiators are successful in their quest for redemption.

On the other side, there’s Centennial, the lone unranked team. The Knights might not be here had it not been for Roswell forfeiting its second-round match against them. In fact, less than a month ago, the Hornets beat Centennial 14-6 on April 14. (That game, too, may be forfeited depending on which games Roswell has to forfeit.) There’s no question the Knights caught a break to get this far, but they’re not riding luck anymore after a 15-4 road win over No. 8 South Forsyth in the quarterfinals. And with a win over Allatoona, they’ll validate that they belong in the championship game after all, and maybe even with a we-would’ve-beat-Roswell-too attitude.

Speaking of Roswell, the Hornets beat Allatoona 15-9 on March 3, the second in a two-game skid that dropped the Bucs to 5-2. The Bucs haven’t lost since, beating a number of quality teams along the way, including Johns Creek. In the quarterfinals, they put down the Buford team that eliminated No. 5 Walton, the 2019 state champions.

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6A-7A Girls

It’s another Walton Lady Raiders-Milton Lady Eagles showdown on one side, and the No. 4 Chattahoochee Lady Cougars (17-4) and the No. 2 West Forsyth Lady Wolverines (19-2) on the other.

Unranked Walton (11-7-1) and No. 1 Milton (18-0), two of the more prominent lacrosse programs in the state, have played dozens of times over the years, and the Lady Eagles usually win. But then again, the Lady Eagles usually win everything when it comes to the GHSA.

I always repeat this around tournament time, but since the GHSA began acknowledging state lacrosse champions in 2005, Milton has won every year save 2009 and 2016. In 2016, it was Walton that shocked the state and beat Milton for the title. In 2009, another team that’s still alive this year, Chattahoochee, won, by beating — you guessed it — Milton.

So, Milton has been in the title game every season since the GHSA championships began. It would appear that streak is highly unlikely to end this year, as the Lady Eagles look as poised as ever to win a title — they’re No. 3 in the nation and closing in on an undefeated season.

While Milton is expected to reach the title game, it’s a toss-up between Chattahoochee and West Forsyth. These programs met on March 2, and it was Chattahoochee that came away with a 13-12 home win. The gap between them appears razor thin, and with the rematch being played at West Forsyth, maybe it’s the Lady Wolverines who prevail this time.

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1A-5A Boys

The top-ranked Blessed Trinity Titans (23-0) must travel to play the No. 2 Westminster Wildcats (13-4) on the road since both teams are No. 1 seeds, and the GHSA’s universal coin toss favored the Wildcats. On March 27, the Titans beat Westminster with a convincing 17-10 win at home.

The last three championships have been won by either team, with Westminster winning in 2017 and 2019. Neither have been meaningfully challenged in the tournament despite playing ranked opponents. In the second round, the Wildcats beat No. 10 Wesleyan 18-1. Blessed Trinity beat No. 7 Lovett 17-11 in the quarterfinals.

On the other end, the No. 4 GAC Spartans (14-7) host the No. 3 Pace Academy Knights (16-2) to complete the all-private school Final Four. These teams have yet to play this season, and Both last lost on April 1, with the Spartans having won seven in a row since losing 13-12 to Roswell. The Knights have won seven in a row after Westminster beat them 9-8.

Neither team has won a state title, but GAC’s freshman played for one in 2018, losing 6-5 to Blessed Trinity in the championship. They also reached the semis in 2016, and the quarterfinals in 2017 and 2019. The Knights are in their first semifinals appearance after entering with a 1-6 tournament record, which dates back to 2011.

Fun fact that has no bearing on this matchup: GAC is 1-0 against Pace Academy in the state tournament. In the first round of the 2015 playoffs, the Spartans won 15-10.

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1A-5A Girls

No, that’s not a typo on the brackets — the same Blessed Trinity-Westminster matchup is happening on the girls’ side as well.

The Blessed Trinity boys and girls programs are two wins away from sweeping the 1A-5A titles.

The Lady Titans (13-2) are also ranked No. 1, while the Lady Wildcats (13-5) are No. 4. Westminster is hosting this match, but the two played on March 23 at Blessed Trinity, and the Lady Titans won 18-7.

Blessed Trinity challenged itself at the end of the regular season, losing two straight to 6A-7A’s top-ranked Milton and No. 5 Roswell, and that may have helped the team down the playoff stretch. The Lady Titans have won their two playoff games by a combined 37-6 after earning a Round 1 bye.

The Lady Wildcats have been even more impressive in their three playoff games, outscoring the competition 62-7. MaxPreps only has one of Westminster’s opponents, King’s Ridge at No. 16, in its top 40 for 1A-5A.

Given the scoring tear both teams are on during the tournament, and considering Blessed Trinity already scored 18 points on Westminster once, if the Lady Wildcats can keep up offensively in the rematch, this will be a much closer game. But either way, expect a high-scoring affair.

The No. 2 Starr’s Mill Lady Panthers (18-2-1) and the unranked Northview Lady Titans (8-13-1) are on the other end, and it’s no surprise the Lady Panthers have made it this far. The same can’t be said for the Lady Titans.

Northview may not have turned many heads when it beat unranked Effingham County 20-2 in Round 1. But when the Lady Titans knocked off No. 8 Whitewater the next round, and No. 5 Lovett in the quarterfinals — outscoring them a combined 31-17 — it became evident the Lady Titans are a title contender.

The Lady Panthers are too, of course, and they beat No. 3 Fellowship Christian 20-12 in Round 2, then No. 6 Wesleyan 16-10 in the quarterfinals. They’re also the 2019 1A-5A state champions, winning their first title in program history.

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