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Darton men two wins from region title; women reach championship

If coach Bart Sasnett's Darton men's team wins today in the semifinals of the region tournament, the Cavs will play for the championship Sunday.

If coach Bart Sasnett's Darton men's team wins today in the semifinals of the region tournament, the Cavs will play for the championship Sunday.

Lady Cavs avenge loss to S. Ga., reach today's title game

ALBANY — The Darton women’s soccer team got its revenge Friday — and it came complete with a trip to the championship game.

Darton lost its season opener to South Georgia College — which had never beaten the Lady Cavs in program history — then beat South Georgia, 3-1, on Friday in the Region XVII Tournament’s semifinals behind goals from Savanah Cantrell and Kimberly Treutel and assists from Deanna Reali and Shenika Williams. It was Darton’s 8th win in a row and sets up today’s title game at 2 p.m. against Georgia Perimeter, which beat ABAC, 3-2, in OT in the other semi Friday.

ALBANY — Forget the motto of taking it one game at a time. The Darton men’s soccer team is taking it one half at a time.

And it’s working.

“Each half we set a goal that we have to win that half,” Darton sophomore Andrew Palumbo said. “Even if we are up in the first half, we start the second half at 0-0. Mentally we are trying to win each half.”

It’s what has driven the Cavs to the program’s first undefeated regular season and a No. 1 national ranking, and it’s what’s still driving them today as they open the Region XVII Tournament at home against Wallace State (Ala.).

The Cavs, who received an opening-round bye, play Wallace State at 7 p.m. in the second semifinal on a field where they are virtually unbeatable. Darton hasn’t lost in Albany since 2010 — and hasn’t lost a night game since 2009.

The winner of tonight’s game will play either South Georgia or Georgia Perimeter in the region championship Sunday afternoon with a trip to nationals on the line.

“It’s been a lot of work up to this point,” Darton sophomore Troy Tucker said. “It always feels good to get back to the tournament.

Tucker then added: “But if we don’t win it will be a big letdown for our team, our program, everything. Nobody is going to remember our great season if we don’t do good in the region tournament and make it to nationals.”

Wallace State, which plays in Georgia’s state tournament every other year because Alabama doesn’t have enough teams to field a tournament, has had a season to remember as well. The Lions are 14-0-2 after winning Wednesday’s opening-round game against Middle Georgia on penalty kicks. They haven’t played as difficult a schedule as Darton (15-0), but Palumbo knows Wallace State isn’t a team to be overlooked.

“They didn’t play some of the teams we ended up playing,” Palumbo said. “I’m sure they played a hard schedule, but we played a really tough one and are confident in ourselves. We aren’t overlooking them, but as long as we keep doing what we have been doing I think we will be alright.”

The Cavs, who tied for third at nationals last year after cruising to their third straight region title, haven’t played in 11 days, but coach Bart Sasnett believes his team is ready for a tough Wallace team.

“I am excited that we are playing Wallace and not Middle. I think it is tough to beat a team three times,” said Sasnett, whose Cavs had two 1-0 victories against Middle Georgia in the regular season. “Middle also has a rivalry and a history with us, where Wallace doesn’t. I think the guys are excited about seeing new competition.”

Nobody has been much competition this season for the Cavs, who have outscored opponents 53-11 and have had eight shutouts in their last 11 games. Much of that success has come from Sasnett’s philosophy of taking the season 45 minutes at a time.

“That’s how we have been so successful this year,” said Tucker, a native of Smiths Parish, Bermuda. “We focus on winning that half, doing good that half, keeping our rhythm that half, making passes for that half. Then it builds momentum, and we take it to the next half.”

Palumbo, a sophomore from Fort Myers, Fla., and Jamaica native Jowayne Laidley lead the Cavs with nine goals each, while Troy Tucker has a team-high 10 assists and four goals. Alejandro Garcia, a freshman from Coral Springs, Fla., has also been a key part of the offensive attack with eight goals and nine assists — but nobody has been as instrumental to Darton’s success than goalkeeper Carlos Cantano, who has allowed six goals all season and just two in the past 11 games.

“Carlos is without a doubt the best keeper in our region, and he is the best keeper I have seen all year,” Sasnett said. “I think he has the potential to be an All-American as well. If he does not get that recognition, it will be a disappointment and injustice.”

Georgia Perimeter and South Georgia face off in the first semifinal game at 5 p.m. today, and the championship game is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday.