January 31, 2014 10:44:48 AM
CALEDONIA -- Eli in the Middle works just fine for the Caledonia High School boys soccer team.
The only thing is it took the Confederates a little longer than usual Thursday night before they could put their sophomore goalkeeper in the center of their postgame huddle/celebration.
Hemphill deserved the place of honor and to have his teammates jump and sing around him after he stopped a penalty kick that was part of the difference in Caledonia's 4-2 shootout victory against Corinth in the opening round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A North State playoffs.
"I am supposed to read how the way they line up on the angles," Hemphill said. "If they are lined up in the center with a right-footer, they are mostly likely going to go to my right, and vice versa. I was thinking and hoping for the best, and I was using my chances wisely."
With the victory, Caledonia (12-2) will advance to play at 4 p.m. at Florence, which eliminated Senatobia.
Will Jones, Will Rollins, Dylan Southard, and Robert Mimms converted penalty kicks in succession for Caledonia after it battled 80 minutes of regulation, 20 minutes of overtime, and 10 minutes of sudden death overtime to keep its season alive. The Confederates mobbed Hemphill after the Warriors missed their fourth penalty kick wide left. Hemphill apparently was caught off guard because he had moved back to his left with the referee's assistant and the Corinth goalkeeper. Once he saw his teammates racing toward him, he moved forward to meet them.
"I had to make a decision before they kicked," Hemphill said. "The best thing is to just get your hand on the ball. It feels great to be the person to take them to the next round."
Hemphill made a quality save in the first half and another in the second half to keep his team in the lead. Corinth tied the game in the 53rd minute off a throw-in that wasn't cleared away from the near post. The goal wiped out a nice build-up Caledonia used in the 20th minute to take a 1-0 lead. Kobe Van Someren started the scoring play with a diagonal pass that appeared to come off the side of his foot. The pass was true and intended for Will Jones, but goalkeeper Preston Snyder came off his line to knock it away. But McKellar Fishel crashed in from the left side to tuck the rebound home.
"It was an evenly distributed game," Hemphill said. "Both teams were very well trained."
Caledonia coach Mark Box agreed. He felt his team controlled much of the action -- it had a 21-4 edge in shots -- thanks to its strong play in the midfield with Mimms, Van Someren, Cole Gullette, and James Longmire. He said Hemphill's stop in the third round of penalty kicks was "huge" and credited his talented offensive players for testing Hemphill in practice to get him ready for his chance in the spotlight. It just so turned out Hemphill was up to the task of being the center of attention.
"We don't just sit there and kick PKs, but we play some games that are about at the penalty line," Box said. "One thing Eli has going for him is we have some really good strikers. He is used to defending against those guys, so when we come up a team that has some really good strikers, it is not foreign to him. He is used to stopping some pretty hard shots."
n In other playoff action Thursday night, the McLaurin girls defeated the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science 1-0 in the opening round of the Class 1A-2A-3A North State tournament.
"Anytime you face a district champion from the Jackson area, you're in for a challenge," MSMS coach Chuck Yarborough said. "It was a tough loss. We dominated possession but were unable to finish."
MSMS ends the season at 9-3, but the team is encouraged by the chance to build on their success next season.
"I have been proud all season of the character these girls have exhibited, and I was pleased to see the shining through again tonight," Yarborough said. "These young ladies have truly exemplified the concept of the scholar athlete throughout the year.
"The senior leadership on this team has been amazing. Sabrina Moore, Rachel Jones, and Maddi Gibson once again led a solid team performance. With eight starters returning next year, their guidance and leadership will continue to be evident when the Lady Waves take the field."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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