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Statesboro sweeps South Effingham
Statesboro High's Brooke Stansel, bottom left, is swamped by teammates Smith Kaiser (20) and Isabella Gutierrez, top, after scoring in the second half to put the Blue Devils up 3-1 over South Effingham to preserve their perfect regional record Tuesday.

    The Statesboro girls soccer team got off to a quick start, but were in a nail biter with South Effingham, before finally scoring a couple late goals — winning 3-1 — and remaining unbeaten in region play.

“I thought we showed a lot of heart and character today,” said Statesboro coach Brian Thomas. “There was a stretch there in the first half where we struggled and they came back and tied it up. We talked about coming out with some fire at halftime, and I feel like we did.”

Tied at 1-1 the Blue Devils took off downfield on a break away. Smith Kaiser played a great cross to Isabella Gutierrez who collided with the Mustang keeper and another player, who was called for a hand ball in the box, resulting in a penalty kick.

“That was a pivotal goal right there,” Thomas said. I have all the confidence in the world with Bella taking a penalty kick.”

Gutierrez put the kick in the bottom corner, past a diving goalkeeper to give Statesboro a 2-1 lead with 14:06 left in the game.

Brooke Stansel gave the Blue Devils a little breathing room with 1:30 left in the game. Stansel corralled a loose ball and fired from about 10 yards out into the back of the net for the final goal of the game.

“Brooke came through when we really needed her,” Thomas said. “That goal gave us a chance to relax a little as we had a two goal advantage.”

Samariah Smith made a few nice saves throughout the game in goal, including a diving stop with less than a minute left in the game to preserve the 3-1 victory.

“A big shout out to Samariah, and the entire defense back line out there,” Thomas said. “Morgan Thompson, Jordan Palmer, Abigail Landing and Rachel Thomas. Those four were really solid all game long.”

The Blue Devils started the scoring just 30 seconds into the game. Nora Wiggins found a streaking Gutierrez down the left side, Gutierrez took aim and fired from about 20 yards away, past the keeper for a 2-1 Statesboro lead.

South Effingham tied the game with 7:10 left in the first half. Katie Drittler connected from the top of the 18, tying the game at 1-1, which would hold through halftime.

Statesboro improves to 10-2-3 overall and a perfect 6-0 in region play. Up next Statesboro has a chance to clinch the region title with a win Friday against Wayne County. Game time is 5:30.

Statesboro 3, South Effingham 2
The Statesboro boys looked pretty flat for most of the game Tuesday against South Effingham. The Blue Devils were able to catch fire though when it mattered most, overcoming a 2-0 deficit, getting two goals from Payne Van Tassell, and the game winner by Nash Welch late in the first half, for a thrilling 3-2 victory.

“I told the team after they scored their second goal, that we weren’t out of this game,” said Statesboro coach David Ball. “We settled down, and started playing our game and got those three goals in there.”

The comeback began off a Statesboro corner kick with 18:40 remaining in the game. The ball bounced around in front of the goal, before Payne Van Tassell blasted it past Anthony Beck in goal to cut the lead to 2-1.

“Once that first one went in there I felt we started getting our confidence back,” Ball said. “It picked everyone up.”

Exactly 10 minutes later Van Tassell showed his speed and elusiveness, weaving and flying past the Mustang defenders and finishing up with another rocket past Beck tying the game at 2-2

The finishing touch was provided by Nash Welch. With 3:04 remaining, and the crowd on their feet, Welch knifed through a couple defenders, took aim and scorched the ball past a diving Beck for what proved to be the game winning goal.

“It was an unbelievable shot,” Ball said. “He did a great job cutting in with the ball, and he put it exactly where he needed it to be in the bottom right hand corner.”

South Effingham took a 1-0 halftime lead on a goal by Jaydon Parrish with 17:10 left in the first half. The Mustangs extended their lead to 2-0 on a penalty kick by Andrew Garner with 25:32 left in the game.

Statesboro goalkeeper Patrick Weber made several outstanding saves throughout the game, including a sliding stop with 13:05 left to help the Blue Devils on defense.

The win put the Blue Devils into a tie for first place in the region with South Effingham at 5-1 in region play.

Statesboro has already clinched a spot in the state playoffs and will now play for a share of the regular season championship when they host Wayne County on Friday at 7:30 p.m.