By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON – South Effingham began its first-round Class 6A state soccer match April 14 against visiting Thomas County Central with two goals and tripled its Region 1 foe in shots, including one banging off the post, during the opening 40 minutes.
Few would find fault with a start like that.
But the Mustangs are setting higher standards these days.
"At first, we were a little shaky because the nerves had to settle in," said midfielder Logan Cribbs, not easily impressed.
"I agree with him and I like hearing that," said SEHS coach DaKota Paradice after the 2-1 victory. "We want to exceed great effort. We know that we still don't play our best all the time, but we know where we could be."
The Mustangs (14-3-1) are definitely going places, advancing to the Sweet 16 against Lakeside (Atlanta), a 3-1 upset winner over Woodward Academy.
The match will be played at the Corral, tentatively scheduled for April 20.
Lakeside (7-8-3) finished fourth in competitive Region 4. Region 4 teams produced a cumulative score of 18-1 while winning all four of their first-round games.
Lakeside defeated North Atlanta in a shootout this season. North Atlanta crushed SEHS 3-0 in the first round of state last season.
"We expect to be up against a tough opponent if they beat the team that handled us pretty good last season," Paradice said.
But the Mustangs, winners of seven of their last eight matches, have already shown to be an improved version of a year ago. Their 14 wins topped recent 13-win campaigns in 2022, 2021, 2018 and 2017 – the school's record for wins in a season, according to MaxPreps.
South's victory over Thomas County Central might have been a little more lopsided than the final score indicated. Twelve minutes into the game, Aidan Harris rattled the post with a blast from 25 yards out.
Then Chris Garcia scored at 25:50 of the first half and Cole Hoffman added another goal at 7:05 to build a 2-0 advantage.
The Mustangs held the two-goal lead until Thomas County Central broke up the shutout bid with 1:25 left.
SEHS finished with a 24-12 edge in shots (12-4 in the first half). Mustangs’ goalie Chase Hoffman registered five saves.
Paradice wasn't sure if his squad had ever won a second-round game at state. Cribbs, a versatile midfielder, looks forward to raising the bar another notch.
"I'm excited to get back out here next week and put some more work in," he said.