By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON – Two recent losses cast a shadow on South Effingham’s eight-game unbeaten string to start the soccer season.
Were the Mustangs boys suddenly showing some vulnerability?
SEHS quieted any skeptics last Thursday night with its biggest win to date, a tactical 3-0 shutout of highly regarded Richmond Hill in a non-region match at the Corral.
“(Richmond Hill) possessed the ball very well and they countered very fast. They’re a very good team,” Mustangs coach DaKota Paradice said. “Our defense played extremely well.”
It was a good sign for a squad coming off 3-0 and 2-0 losses to Glynn Academy and Grovetown to enter the week.
South (9-2-1) snapped the mini losing streak with a 3-1 victory over Brunswick on March 14.
But defeating Richmond Hill, a perennial soccer power, was an accomplishment of greater magnitude. Before topping the Wildcats twice last season, the Mustangs had not beaten RHHS in eight prior meetings dating back to 2015, according to MaxPreps.
Richmond Hill (9-2-1) had the statistical advantage Thursday night. The Wildcats held a 7-4 edge in shots on goal and had nine corners; South none.
But senior goalie Chase Hoffman, the last line of the stingy defense, was perfect against seven shots. Several of the saves were highlight material to maintain an early 1-0 lead until SEHS sealed the victory with two goals in the final 12 minutes.
“He’s a monster and when he’s (focused), I don’t know of a better goalkeeper,” Paradice said. “I’m not just saying that as a coach. It’s well-known around the region, if he’s on point, it’s very hard to score. If we can get that the rest of the year, we’re going to be hard to score on.”
Hoffman turned away a point-blank header by Tyler Diesman to keep the game scoreless during the 15th minute and less than a minute later, Chase’s brother Cole Hoffman put the Mustangs ahead by converting a loose ball in the box for a goal.
Meanwhile, South’s defense, led by Tyler Quick, was strengthened by back checking midfielder Logan Cribbs. The Mustangs used long balls to transition to offense and made the most of their scoring opportunities.
SEHS had just four shots on goal, but three found the back of the net.
With 12:03 remaining, JP Alonzo corralled a loose ball, and from 30 yards, chipped a shot over RHHS goalie Kyle Diesman to make it 2-0. About 4 ½ minutes later, Cole Hoffman added his second goal to seal the win.
And Chase Hoffman remained impenetrable as Richmond Hill was shut out for the first time this season.
South returned to action March 20 against Effingham County in Springfield.
The Mustangs, who are in second place in Region 2-6A with a 6-2 region record, finish the regular season with their final four games at home where they are 5-0-1 this season.