The East Jackson boys’ soccer team hasn’t hosted a state playoff game since 2016, but that will change this week when the Eagles’ postseason run begins.
With a 3-1 road win over Monroe Area Friday (April 16), East Jackson (7-5, 4-1 Region 8-AAA) secured a runner-up finish in Region 8-AAA, earning a first-round home game for Round 1. The Eagles will play Region 5-AAA No. 3 seed Sandy Creek Wednesday.
“That’s huge, and so they knew that (Friday),” East Jackson coach Derek Davis said. “We obviously didn’t need to tell them that. We’ve been talking about that for a long time. So that’s a huge thing for us, so we’re very excited to be hosting. We feel good about that.”
The Eagles went 4-1 in region play, with its lone loss coming to No. 3-ranked Oconee County back in late February. Davis praised his team for its highest finish in 8-AAA in five years.
“We feel very happy, and we feel good with that,” Davis said. “We think that’s a good place for us, and we’re happy about moving into state now with home field advantage.”
East Jackson recorded its fourth-straight Region 8-AAA win with its victory over Monroe Area. Jesus Perez provided two of the Eagles’ three goals, scoring on two second-half free kicks.
The first came in the 51st minute when Perez placed the ball perfectly in top right corner of the frame to break a 1-1 tie.
“We were relieved,” Davis said. “Because we know he was capable of it, so we were glad for him. He’s had a lot of close free kicks this year. That definitely took some pressure off, and that helped us get thing rolling.
“We were pretty happy to see that, and we were pretty happy to see him do it again. That was good for him.”
The second came when Perez went quick on a free kick in the 59th minute and sent the ball inside the far post to increase the Eagles’ lead to 3-1.
Perez had missed scoring on a free kick in the first half, banging a shot off the near post from just outside the box. Johnny Benitez, however, punched the ball in moments later, tying the game 1-1.
Prior to that, Monroe Area scored its lone goal of the night, converting a penalty kick in the 13th minute.
Davis said his team played better in the second in securing the victory but still needs to work on finishing scoring opportunities.
“I think it gets frustrating for the kids to put forth that kind of effort and not see the result,” he said.
Still, the Eagles moved the ball better in the final 40 minutes, according to Davis, even if it didn’t yield more goals.
“I think we did a lot of things better in the second half that we didn’t do in the first half,” Davis said. “We did possess more. We had it up in their defensive third more. We just couldn’t get it in except for the free kicks.”
East Jackson moves forward to the post season having won four of its last five games.
“I feel very good,” Davis said. “I think we’re playing our best soccer now, and the guys are coming together as a team, so we feel pretty good — we feel really good.”
•EAST JACKSON GIRLS FINISH AS NO. 4 SEED: The East Jackson girls’ team missed out on a No. 3 seed for the state playoffs with a 3-1 loss at Monroe Area in its regular season finale.
The setback relegates them to a No. 4 seed, pitting them against No. 1-seed Westminster on the road Tuesday (April 20) in the first round of the Class AAA state tournament. Westminster is also the classification’s top-ranked team.
“That’s alright, we’ll go out there and give it all we’ve got,” Eagle coach Meredith Gallman said of the first-round matchup.
East Jackson led Monroe Area 1-0 for the majority of the first half in Friday’s loss, following a sixth-minute goal from Cailyn Bousquet. But the Purple Hurricanes produced a flurry of scores in the final 12 minutes of the first half with all three of its goals.
“We had a little bit of a rough ending there (to the first half),” Gallman said. “We got some injuries. They out-hustled us really. They were tough.”