November 19, 2010 8:34:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville Academy''s season-opening soccer match Wednesday was a tale of two frustrating halves.
Starkville Academy survived an early onslaught by Pillow Academy and appeared to be resigned to goalkeeper Davis Pigg bailing them out for countless field errors.
Once the Volunteers adjusted to even the game, they couldn''t find the target.
Then Starkville Academy''s man of the match met misfortune when his lone mishap gifted Pillow Academy''s 1-0 win.
Pigg''s brilliance included point-blank saves and a cool demeanor in his first varsity start. But the uneasy moments against set pieces turned sour in the 63rd minute when a free kick escaped his grasp and fell for midfielder Thomas Toole, who netted the winner inside the 6-yard box and rescued the Mustangs.
"I knew we had to score," Toole said. "We were letting (SA) hang around, and they could have popped one in and gone ahead. (Lee Hines) sent it in and we had three guys following it up. I was getting the trash and I just popped it in."
For Pigg, conceding the goal in a game of such an important game overshadowed an otherwise stellar debut.
"I rolled up to take that ball and it just rolled right through me," Pigg said. "When I got hit in the face, (teammates) covered the goal. They covered for me. I think they did good and held their positions. I just let one in."
Pigg wasn''t alone in making his first career start, as senior captain Pat Jones ran out as the lone returning starter from last year''s squad that won the division championship.
For much of the first half, the Volunteers struggled to escape their half of the field, bogging down in bunches and panicking in decision-making. It took until halftime for the players to find a feel for the game and to make adjustments.
In the second half, Starkville Academy showed its potential with sophomore Matt Jones, who was a fixture on the right flank. Jones came close to scoring the opener when he pushed a shot just wide of the post in the 44th minute. Classmate Drew Pellum had a good look on goal drift wide in the 62nd minute.
"We slowed down," Matt Jones said. "We tried to get over our nerves, looked up more, and got our head in the game a little more. We knew we had to come out better. The finishing we couldn''t get right. The effort was there."
Making the most of the chances could have flipped the result ahead of a rematch Nov. 29 in Greenwood. First-year coach Robert Gardner said the post-match mood was somber, and he could sense the disappointment in the team.
"We earned ourselves a few chances that we maybe could have done something with," Gardner said. "But I think nil-nil at the half was a fair result. I thought our buildup was good. We had some chances free up. I thought we had seven or eight good possessions that could have finished with chances."
Pigg made six saves in the first half. The first foreshadowed his willingness to focus through lengthy spells of frantic play in front of him. After a failed clearance attempt by a teammate in the fourth minute, the ball fell at the edge of the 18-yard box for Adam Horn, who rocketed a shot off Pigg''s face. Pigg required brief medical attention but finished the game in strong fashion.
Cason Giachelli''s frustration in front of goal brewed with each Pigg save. Pigg turned the striker away before he wasted Daniel Higganbotham''s soft flick across the box in the 13th. A minute later, his dipping shot from 20 yards out found the crossbar.
Considering Pillow Academy had just two full training sessions before the game, the results, especially early in the game, are positive.
"We controlled the ball a lot better than I thought we would," Pillow coach Jay Jones said. "We just had a lot of opportunities that just missed. A lot of these guys play football, so we hadn''t been out here very long. Once we start practicing more they''ll start falling for us."
A balanced second half saw Higganbotham scuff a volley inside the six and Giachelli find the woodwork for the second time following Toole''s opener.
In the second half, the Mustangs tired and were limited to long-range efforts and deep-ball passes.
Starkville Academy''s Austin Kinard started to find space in the middle and Pat Jones began to find himself on the receiving end of the junior''s lead passes.
With just 10 minutes remaining, Pat Jones got the one-on-one chance he''d been waiting for when Kinard sprung him free through the defense. On the left edge of the box, Jones, perhaps not confident in his weaker foot, opted for another touch to set up for a right-footed shot. His decision wound up left of Pillow Academy''s near post.
"It could have been a number of things, but I don''t blame Patrick for that," Gardner said. "I wrote down eight other good chances. We had a number of set pieces. (It was) just a number of things that set us back on the night. I don''t think it was any one chance that cost us. Maybe a little bit of inexperience today cost us."
Both teams are idle until their Nov. 29 rematch.