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Local soccer teams prepare for playoffs
EC vs. SE
Dakota Paradice
Dakota Paradice - photo by Photo submitted
Tara Aiken
Tara Aiken - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

GUYTON – For the greater portion of the soccer season, the South Effingham boys team has played to the level of its competition, says coach DaKota Paradice.

“It was like, ‘Who are we?’ ” Paradice said.

But lately, the Mustangs have found their identity and will be taking a four-game winning streak into the Class AAAAAA state tournament Friday.

SEHS (13-5), a No. 3 seed from Region 2, will be on the road in its first-round matchup against Region 4’s second seed North Atlanta (11-6-1), a school that advanced to the Final Four a year ago.

Local girls soccer teams will be traveling as well. SEHS girls (11-5) will play at Lakeside (12-3) and the Effingham County girls (7-9) head to North Atlanta (10-6-1). Both matches are Thursday.

“They’re definitely pretty good,” said Paradice of his squad’s clash with the Warriors. “We’ll have to play our best soccer.”

But that’s exactly what the Mustangs have been doing after suffering a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Statesboro on March 29. Two second-half goals – a penalty kick that tied the game and a direct kick blast just outside the box – pushed SEHS to a No. 3 seed in the region and prompted a road trip.

But since the Statesboro setback, the Mustangs beat Bradwell Institute 5-0 (a team they beat just 2-1 in their first meeting), Brunswick 4-1 (a 3-1 loss in the first meeting), Tattnall County 3-0 (a team entering with a 14-1 record) and First Presbyterian 2-0 (a team entering with a 12-2-2 record).

“I think it’s just a matter of how we’re approaching games now,” Paradice said. “We have a big junior class. I think they just said. “We’re done with this. Let’s play better. We’re tired of losing.” ”

On the girls side, SEHS has been a surprise squad, capturing a third-place finish in the region after winning just five games and failing to make the state playoffs a year ago.

This year, all five of the Mustangs’ losses have been to ranked teams, according to Score Atlanta – two to Glynn Academy (No. 8 in AAAAAA), two to Richmond Hill (No. 10 in AAAAAA) and last Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to First Presbyterian (No. 8 in Private A).

The ECHS girls have been a feel-good story in the area as well. Teacher Tara Aiken volunteered to lead the coachless Rebels about two weeks before the season’s first practice.

Despite multiple injuries, ECHS has played better at the end of the season – winning three of its last five games, including a 2-1 victory over Bradwell Institute on March 29 (the Rebels lost the first meeting) to gain the eventual one-game edge over the Tigers for fourth place.