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East Hall boys soccer cruises to 4-0 win in Round 1
Vikings will play at Thomasville on Tuesday in 2nd rond
East Hall’s Saul Lopez, right, runs past River Ridge’s Pavel Chica during the first half of the Viking’s round one win in the state boys soccer playoffs Thursday afternoon at East Hall Stadium.

East Hall junior Julio Avila didn’t need to worry about whether or not teammate Jason Mendoza would be sprinting downfield to catch up with his chip pass behind the defense early in Thursday’s game at Vikings Stadium.

Most of the players on the East Hall boys soccer team had been playing on the pitch together long before donning varsity jerseys.

“We’ve all been playing together since we were little,” Avila said. “And we like to touch the ball a lot, that’s how we play.”

Mendoza took the pass and fired a shot past the River Ridge goalkeeper in what would prove to be the only goal needed in a 4-0 win to advance to the second round of the state tournament.

The No. 2-seeded Vikings, who once again dominated possession in the program’s first-ever home playoff game, will travel to face the Region 1-AA champs Thomasville (14-2-1) on Tuesday. The Bulldogs routed Brantley County 10-0 in the first round.

As far as East Hall coach Chris Horton knows, it’s the first time the East Hall boys (13-3-1) will even have a chance to play beyond the opening round.

“This is the first time we’ve won a game (at state) that I know of,” he said. “Hopefully for the community and the school it’s one of those things you can build on.”

As long as most of these players are still together, there’s plenty to build on. This Vikings team essentially plays keep-away from opponents, which, this season, has served to prevent many shots on the East Hall goal while giving the Vikings plenty of opportunities.

“They play a good possession-style soccer and they made us chase the ball a lot,” said Knights coach Terry Strassner. “It wasn’t our best effort, but the better team won.”

Despite being on its heels most of the first half, River Ridge very nearly made it to the half down by just one goal, largely due to the play of starting goalkeeper Wes Bearden, who made a number of big saves.

“That’s a credit to their goalkeeper,” Horton said. “He made some beautiful saves.”

Bearden was under pressure most of the half. With under two minutes left in the half he ran out to punch away a cross from East Hall’s Jesus Carillo, but Wilson Ordonez corralled the deflection and fired the ball into the net to put East Hall ahead 2-0 with only 1:24 left until halftime.

“I definitely wanted to go into halftime down 1-0,” said Strassner, whose team was making its first playoff appearance in only the third year of existence.

Instead East Hall took that momentum and struck twice more early in the second half to put the game away.

East Hall’s Saul Lopez went on the attack as soon as the second half began. Less than two minutes in, he found himself in a two-on-one in the River Ridge box, and, after juking the final defender, passed to Avila for a quick goal and a 3-0 lead.

Two minutes later East Hall goalkeeper Abel Olvera blasted a penalty kick by Knights back-up keeper Harpal Sagoo for the fourth and final Vikings goal.

Olvera didn’t make his first save of the game for another eight minutes thanks to East Hall’s quick defense, which allowed just three shots on goal all game.

Horton credits East Hall’s team-first style.

“We pass and communicate and play so much as a team,” he said.

Avila is happy that this team of familiar faces is continuing on.

“It feels good to make it to the second round for the first time,” he said. “It feels good to make history for the school.”

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