By Jonathan Deal
It has been nearly two weeks since Athens beat area-foe East Limestone 2-1, but the Golden Eagles didn’t secure home-field playoff position until last night’s win over Columbia.
The 4-0 victory was just enough to clinch first place in Class 5A Area 8 over East Limestone. The two rivals split games earlier this year, beating one another by a single goal each game. With nothing between them, the determining factor went to a third tiebreaker, goal differential in section play.
Following the April 12 win over East, Athens had to win its final two area games against Columbia by at least three goals. Monday’s 4-0 win ensured they would be area champs for the second consecutive season.
“We didn’t stress on it much,” Athens head coach Ron Oakley said about the scenario heading into the team’s final two games. “I just told them to play their game and not focus on the three-goal margin.”
Christopher Gregory’s double led the way for Athens while Ramon Jurado and Wynn Baker each added goals in the win. Rafael Marcial, Michael Phraner and Baker added assists.
Athens goal differential advantage over East wasn’t much. In games against East, Lee and Columbia, Athens held a plus 10-goal differential while East’s differential was plus nine.
As frivolous as the tiebreaker may have been, East will travel to Cullman in the first round while Athens will host Hartselle Tuesday, May 1. Should both teams win their first-round matchups, the teams will play one another again in the second round.
“It makes a difference,” Oakley said about playing at home. “Having the first one at home is big. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
The No. 1 ranked Athens girls team already secured home field with an undefeated area slate. The Lady Eagles will host Cullman at 5 p.m. Tuesday with the boys game against Hartselle to follow.