Leading scorer Diego Ramos and the Cavs are two wins away from winning region and getting on the road back to nationals. (email@example.com)
DUNWOODY -- For the past seven days, Darton men's soccer coach Bart Sasnett has been thinking nonstop about this weekend's Region XVII tournament.
For sophomore midfielder Guilherme Frota, it's been even longer.
"It's been the whole year," Frota said before Thursday's practice. "Last year we went to the nationals, and this year I hope we go again. If you lose, you go home and cry."
The defending region champion Cavs are ranked second in the nation and open up tournament play with a semifinal game against Middle Georgia today in Dunwoody.
Darton (15-1, 12-0) beat Middle Georgia twice in the regular season, but Sasnett said he understands the difficulty of doing it a third time.
"The biggest thing is trying to beat a team three times in one season," Sasnett said. "It's very difficult. The challenge for us is that this team plays the exact opposite of the way we play."
Middle Georgia's style of play -- packing its side of the field and relying on long balls for goals -- fits right into the smaller-sized field that the teams will be playing on today. In fact, the Cavs, who had difficulty playing on smaller fields during the season and are used to playing on their larger, well-tailored home field, have shortened their practice field to prepare for this weekend.
"They can just pack the back, because they know we are very offensive team," said team captain Diego Ramos, who is ninth in the nation in scoring with 15 goals and 28 assists. "So they just sit back and wait, and they are going to try to keep it tied and then beat us in the last few minutes."
Not only do the field dimensions favor Middle Georgia, but the Cavs have had trouble playing on the road this season, at least comparatively to their eight home games in which they have outscored opponents 41-4.
The three other remaining teams in the region tournament -- Middle Georgia, South Georgia and Georgia Perimeter -- all fared better against the Cavs when playing outside of Albany, including a Middle Georgia team that Darton beat, 5-1, at home and 2-0 on the road.
"At home we beat them pretty badly, but it's when we play away from home when we have problems," Ramos said. "Those fields aren't as nice as ours. It's a different environment that is harder to play in."
But still, Ramos said there is no pressure on the Cavs, who are unquestionable the favorites to win the region.
"We are comfortable and confident in who we are," Ramos said. "What we did going 12-0 doesn't mean anything. Beating all of these teams doesn't mean anything if we go (today) and lose. And it could happen. They are good enough. Anybody can win it now. It's just about who wants it more."
The Darton-Middle Georgia matchup is slated for 11 a.m., while South Georgia and host Georgia Perimeter play at 3 p.m. in the second semifinal game.
The two winners will meet up at 2 p.m. Sunday for the championship game with a trip to the Southeast District Tournament on Nov. 5 on the line.
LADY CAVS ROLL MGC, SET UP REMATCH WITH GPC IN REGION FINALS: Darton sophomore Shelby Bush scored three goals to lead the Lady Cavs to a 7-0 victory against Middle Georgia in Friday's semifinal game of the Region XVII Tournament.
The victory sets up a region championship rematch today at noon with Georgia Perimeter, which edged South Georgia in overtime in Friday's second semifinal game, 2-1.
In last year's championship game, Georgia Perimeter and Darton were tied 1-1 at the end of regulation before Perimeter defeated the Lady Cavs in penalty kicks.
Both regular-season games between No. 9 seed Darton (14-2-2) and No. 4 seed Georgia Perimeter (12-0-2) ended in 1-1 ties.