September 10, 2010 9:20:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- When a team lives on the edge long enough, a fall is imminent.
Starkville Academy''s soccer team was reminded Thursday what can happen to a team that lives nearly 60 minutes in its own half.
The Lady Vols clung to a 1-0 lead for nearly the entire second half against Pillow Academy before conceding an 78th minute equalizer and a pair of extra-time goals in a 3-1 loss.
Pillow clinched the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA North Division title with the win. Starkville Academy entered the game needing to win by two goals to secure the division title.
Starkville Academy (4-6, 3-2) was fortunate to escape a barrage of first half strikes from Pillow as goalkeeper Garland Willcutt turned away seven Mustangs'' shots.
Adversely, the Lady Vols had just one shot on goal in the first half.
Starkville Academy center forward Sallie Kate Richardson shocked the Mustangs with the game''s opening goal just a minute into the period. Jordan Jackson fed Richardson in the middle of the box, and the 6-foot striker slotted past Pillow ''keeper Kaity Box.
Payton Allen had a close range shot pushed away and Tiffany Huddleston saw a chested corner kick denied by the crossbar shortly after Richardson''s opener.
From there, Starkville Academy spent the remainder of the second half bunkered in its own side of the field before Chloe Bush tied the game with a lined shot across the face goal.
Airston Small bagged a pair of goals in extra time to secure the win.
"It feels like Jackson Prep all over again," Starkville Academy''s Tiffany Evans said of the team''s 3-2 home loss. "It doesn''t feel good."
Starkville Academy midfielder Tiffany Huddleston picked up a quadriceps injury to her right leg in the first half, and despite returning in the second half the sophomore wasn''t fit to be the fill the box-to-box midfielder role.
"You couldn''t play her in because she couldn''t run," Allen said. "She was kind of just used for passes."
Huddleston''s absence and limited effectiveness brought changes to Starkville Academy''s second and third level as Maridee Higginbotham was moved up from fullback to midfield and Jackson into Allen''s usual spot on the right flank.
Allen spent most of her day dropping off to help defend, limiting her from using her pace out wide to help Starkville Academy unlock the Pillow backline.
"It''s really hard because their back line is like a wall," Allen said of Pillow. "And you have to play to feet; there''s no playing into space."
Losing Huddleston, however, was too much for the Lady Vols to work around, head coach Robert Gardner said.
"It became a big problem for us," Gardner said. "When you lose Tiffany Huddleston your offense is going to look completely different. I''m not going to use that as an excuse by any means, but having Tiffany at 50 percent instead of 100 percent is just a different world."
The Lady Vols host Magnolia Heights on Tuesday.
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