By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON – Within the first 10 minutes of the regular-season soccer finale against Southeast Bulloch, South Effingham goalie Chase Hoffman already had two diving highlight saves.
Yes, it appears Hoffman and the Mustangs are ready for their first-round Class 6A state tournament matchup with visiting Thomas County Central on Friday at 4 p.m.
It's the first home state playoff game for the boys’ soccer program since 2019.
South, the No. 2 seed from Region 2, enters with a 13-3-1 overall record. The Yellow Jackets, the No. 3 seed from Region 1, comes in at 9-5-1.
The winner advances to the Sweet 16 on April 20 against the winner of Woodward Academy-Lakeside, DeKalb.
"We're super excited going into it," Hoffman said. "Our confidence is high. We've been playing well. We beat Glynn Academy and got a (first-round) home playoff game. That was the goal from Day 1. Now we have to keep the train going."
Hoffman and his teammates have good reasons to be optimistic. During the final three weeks of the regular season, the Mustangs stunned highly regarded programs Richmond Hill 3-0 and region champion Glynn Academy 2-1 in double overtime while winning six of seven matches.
In the tune-up against SEB on April 6, even third-string goalie Lucas Davis, a freshman, came up big while saving a penalty kick during a 3-0 win.
"I think when (Thomas County) reaches out and looks at film on us, they'll think goaltending is our strong point," SEHS coach DaKota Paradice said.
They wouldn't be wrong. Hoffman, a 6-foot-3 senior, has been the last line of a defense that has recorded seven shutouts and allowed one goal in six other matches.
Against high-scoring Glynn Academy, Hoffman faced 22 shots, surrendering one goal, while handing the Red Terrors their lone loss of the season.
"Chase is always working to be better and that's what sets him apart," Paradice said. "He watches film. He does plyometrics, lifts weights. He gets one-on-one coaching. He's never very content. A lot of people on the field are competing with the guy behind them (on the depth chart), but he's in the No. 1 spot right now and his competition is him the day before."
Hoffman's outstanding play has even drawn attention from across the Atlantic Ocean. Leeds Beckett University in West Yorkshire, England, has shown interest in Hoffman and teammate Grady Smith.
Hoffman said he learned about the opportunity to go overseas from his club teammates at Coastal Empire FC in Richmond Hill.
"I'll see what my opportunities are, but it will be hard to pass up going to England, playing ball and getting an education," Hoffman said.
But for now, closer to home, matters.
And teams can go a long way in the postseason with a hot goalie.
"There's usually a lot (of pressure) on the goalie, but at the same time there are 10 guys in front of you," Hoffman said. "My teammates trust me back there and I trust them in front of me. It's stressful, but if everyone does his job, we shouldn't be tested too much."