The Buford boys soccer team’s recent turnaround has expanded the Region 7-AAA playoff race from four teams to five.
Fredy Benitez scored in the 74th minute, and the No. 10 Wolves won their fourth straight game by upsetting No. 8 East Hall 1-0 on Tuesday at East Hall Stadium.
Their first week in Class AAA’s top 10, Buford (6-6-1, 5-2) is suddenly in prime position to steal a playoff spot from one of the four other state-ranked teams in the region.
The Wolves stunned No. 2 Dawson County 2-0 last week, and Tuesday’s win over East Hall only solidified their chances.
“This team has grown up every week,” Buford coach Victor Lane said. “Every week, it’s like we’re seeing a different team. We’re just excited for what that means for the playoffs.”
With losses to West Hall and North Hall and no region games remaining, Lane’s team awaits its postseason fate as region games wrap up in the coming week. West Hall faces Dawson County on April 15, and the Spartans face the Trojans three days later.
“We know if they develop and get better, the results are going to take care of themselves,” Lane said. “That’s what we’re seeing — we’re really happy with it.”
Meanwhile, East Hall (5-4-3, 2-3) finds itself on the outside looking in, currently sitting fifth in the region after a three-game losing streak. The 2013 state semifinalist Vikings still have two region games remaining, including a key matchup against Dawson County on Apr. 22.
But even in a current slump, the Vikings still neutralized Buford’s offense for the majority of the night, and even witnessed a few close calls of their own.
Benitez finally broke East Hall’s defense with six minutes left to play, converting a long pass from Daniel Garcia and burying the shot past Vikings goalkeeper Emmanuel Andrade.
“We knew if we got a ball to bounce in the box with one of our strikers at the end of it, it was going to be in,” Lane said. “We just got one, and that’s all we needed in this game.”
The goal capped off the better half for Buford, which controlled the flow of the game for the majority of the second half. That included a near miss in the 44th minute, when Miguel Burgos’ header off a corner kick barely sailed over the crossbar.
East Hall’s best scoring opportunity occurred in the 14th minute, when Jason Mendoza’s shot from the right sideline bounced off the top right corner of the goal.
Mendoza also saw an open shot roll wide past Wolves goalkeeper Zach Vickery in the 38th minute.
Buford hosts Wesleyan and East Hall visits Pickens on Friday.
BUFORD GIRLS 10, EAST HALL 0: The third-ranked Lady Wolves recorded their third 10-goal shutout in four games to extend their winning streak to eight games on Tuesday.
Brooke Horist, Elexa Bahr, Brie Smith and Mia Edmond each scored twice for Buford (11-2, 7-0 Region 7-AAA), which hasn’t lost in more than a month. Tara Dambach and Ceely Coker also tallied goals for the Lady Wolves.
Buford scored six goals in the second half, including four in the first nine minutes of the period. Edmond’s second goal activated the mercy rule, ending the game with 19 minutes left to play.
The Lady Wolves host Wesleyan, the No. 7 team in Class AA, on Friday.
East Hall (0-11, 0-5) remains in the hunt for its first win this season, and also looks to end a nine-game scoreless streak, when it visits Pickens on Friday night.