January 13, 2010 8:54:00 AM
Tuesday night was an appetizer, albeit one served on a cold, crunchy surface.
Despite the conditions, the New Hope and Columbus high school girls and boys soccer coaches were pleased with what they saw from their teams in one of the final non-district matches of the season.
Morgan Hardin scored two goals to lead the New Hope girls to a 4-2 victory, while the Columbus boys used two first-half goals to edge New Hope 2-1 in the nightcap.
The results come one day after both teams opened district play against Saltillo (New Hope) and Tupelo (Columbus). Tuesday''s matches served as warmups for the rest of the week, which includes district matches against West Point (Thursday) and at Saltillo (Friday) for New Hope and a match at Starkville on Friday for Columbus.
Columbus first-year coach Javier Esquivel likes how his team has progressed this season, and was particularly impressed with how the Falcons generated a consistent attack against the Trojans.
"I am very proud of these boys," Esquivel said. "We started from scratch, and I can see the level they have been taking now. They have a lot of skills and a lot of talents, and when you have all of that together, it is a great combination."
Esquivel feels the Falcons have improved 20 percent from the beginning of the season. He said each player on the field has learned his responsibility, which has helped contribute to a team concept. He said that mentality has allowed the Falcons to become a family.
Columbus lost its district opener to Tupelo, but he likes his chances Friday against Starkville. Esquivel used to coach soccer in Starkville and knows a lot of the Yellow Jackets. He hopes that knowledge helps
"There is 80 minutes in a game and anything can happen," Esquivel said. "We are going to try to be ready, and I think Friday we are going to be ready for it."
Columbus showed Tuesday it might be ready by playing an attacking brand of soccer. The work rate paid off as sophomore Matt Esquivel followed up a service from Nick Missel and snuck the ball past goalkeeper Kaleel Wainwright to tie the match at 1-1 with less then five minutes remaining in the half.
Wainwright kept the game tied a little more than a minute later when he made a hand save on Sebastian Vazquez''s bid off a pass from Esquivel. He wasn''t as fortunate just before the end of the half as the defense failed to clear a ball in the box, which allowed the Falcons to capitalize on their pressure and score what proved to be the game-winner.
Seniors Houston Walker and Salem Gibson helped Columbus maintain its pressure in the second half and deny New Hope quality scoring opportunities.
When the Trojans were in position, goalkeeper Dylan Gordon came up big. His best save of the second half came off a corner kick by Tanner Ryals that found the head of Eric Edwards on the right side of the box. Edwards hit the ball flush, but Gordon was centered perfectly and caught the shot with two hands.
New Hope Jerry Byrd liked the way his players responded from a hard-fought 2-1 victory against Saltillo on Monday. Still, he said the Trojans will have to do a better job of holding a lead the rest of the season if they want to advance to the playoffs. The top two teams in each district move on to the playoffs.
"That has happened to us a few times this year. We will score and get a lead and we just don''t do a good job of holding it," said Byrd, who also is in his first season. "I am not sure if we lose focus or if we are still caught up in the moment, but we have struggled."
A goal by Blake King, who had both of the team''s scores against Saltillo, helped give New Hope the early lead. King ran through a high service that Gordon appeared to be ready to secure, but King flew in and knocked the ball free and watched it roll into the back of the net.
Byrd sad King''s play has given the Trojans a lift, as has the play of Wainwright in goal.
"I feel we have gotten better, and that is a credit to the kids," Byrd said. "We have been playing better The kids have hung in here, kept coming to practice, and have gotten tougher."
n New Hope 4, Columbus 2 (G): The Lady Trojans bounced back from a loss to Saltillo on Monday thanks to the help of Hardin, a senior, who has played all over the field this season.
"She is a great all-around player for everybody," Nagy said. "She is a great senior leader for us. She is very positive wherever she is on the field and is a great encourager of the girls."
On Monday, she moved to forward after Effie Morrison had to be helped off the field in the opening minutes. Morrison returned, but only after Hardin had scored off a pass by Sarah Hern and off a cross from Brittany Walked to give New Hope a 4-1 halftime lead.
Hern and Walker, off an assist by Hardin, also scored for New Hope.
"We have seen a lot of improvement," New Hope coach Mary Nagy said. "We are hearing a lot more communication on the field. The girls have worked hard and I am really pleased with their efforts."
Goalkeeper Anna Holley returned and survived a blow to the face when she came out to challenge an oncoming attacker.
Nagy said the Lady Trojans rotated lineups to protect against other injuries and to give other players chances in different roles. Aleni Bryant played defense and forward and used her speed in the back to snuff out several possible scoring chances by the Lady Falcons.
Columbus coach Lynette Strawn said she, too, has been pleased with the improvement of her players. Cacovia Millsap scored in the first half off an assist from Erica Harrison to cut New Hope''s lead to 2-1. Katie Proctor added a penalty kick in the final two minutes of the first half, but Columbus couldn''t capitalize on its pressure in the second half.
"I am still really proud of them because we have had to pull two of my defenders up to play forward to compensate for injury and other things going on," Strawn said. "We have had our ups and downs, but tonight they came out and played with their heart. They dug from deep within and had fun out there."
n Caledonia 2, Amory 1, PKs: At Amory, Kevin Kugel had the game-winning penalty kick to help the Confederates improve to 9-3 and 3-0 in the district.
Brandon Webber scored in the first half off a rebound of a shot by Josh Kugel that hit the crossbar.
Amory tied the match in the 64th minute to help send the game to overtime. The teams played two scoreless 10-minute periods before moving to penalty kicks.
Amory shot first and Matt Gresham made the save. Evan Wester connected for Caledonia, before Amory made its next shot. Josh Kugel made his next shot and Matt Gresham stopped another shot for the Confederates.
Kye VanSomeran made Caledonia''s next shot, and Amory made its next attempt and denied the Confederates'' next try. Amory made the following penalty kick to set the stage for Kevin Kugel.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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