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Starkville soccer teams roll past Columbus

 

David Miller

 

STARKVILLE -- The Starkville Yellow Jackets couldn''t have had worse weather for Senior Night Thursday, but their play didn''t miss a beat.  

 

Freezing temperatures, constant rain and swirling winds made conditions unfavorable for Starkville''s usual up-tempo brand of soccer and even forced the game to be called in the 60th minute.  

 

By that time, the Jackets (14-0-1) had their third-straight district shutout secure and finished with a 6-0 win over the Falcons.  

 

SHS midfielder Price Day scored twice, including once from the penalty spot, in the first half. 

 

The Jackets held a 3-0 lead after just 15 minutes following breakaway efforts of Muhammad Dalhalalla and Day, and a fierce mid-range shot from Justin Gordon. 

 

Leading scorer Alvaro Pichardo netted his 17th of the season on a 20-yard free kick in the 30th minute. The low, bending drive around Columbus'' wall helped send the Jackets into the break with a comfortable 5-0 lead. 

 

Lewis Maynard scored from close range in the 59th.  

 

"I was kind of impressed because of how cold it was," Starkville head coach Brian Bennett said. "Teeth were chattering, and I was kind of worried. But the guys looked good." 

 

The Jackets have a tuneup match today at Neshoba Central before traveling to Tupelo on Saturday for the rematch of Tuesday''s 1-0 win.  

 

The Jackets, now 3-0 in district play, must beat Tupelo or win the series on goal difference to win their first district title in 20 years, which would earn a home-playoff game in the first round of the Class 6A bracket.  

 

Sure, players are taking it "one game it a time," but Bennett admits his players are thinking about Saturday''s match. 

 

"And they wouldn''t play these two if they didn''t have to," Bennett said. "They''re ready to play for that division championship. When you can see it in their eyes like that, it''s a good feeling." 

 

The Jackets own two straight 1-0 wins over the Golden Wave and are relishing the prospects of a third, which would preserve their undefeated season and make the road to a state title more navigable.  

 

"We''re scoring goals, we''re defending," Pichardo said. "We''re playing Jacket soccer. We knew we were gonna have a great team coming into the season, but we''ve worked hard all season, taken care of business and stayed in shape.  

 

"You''re seeing it now because we''re having a great week." 

 

The Falcons (1-14, 0-3) felt unfortunate to have played with just two referees, as their offsides trap was ineffective against Starkville''s passing and speed up top. 

 

Columbus head coach Ben Moore felt like his team lacked the athleticism to match Starkville''s dominant midfield and forwards, but hoped to see better results from their traps.  

 

Instead, he saw goalkeeper Dylan Gordon pressed into immediate service with two one-on-one showdowns just 10 minutes into the match. 

 

Once the Falcons adjusted to a four-man, sweeper-aided defense, Moore started to see the gaps in defense shrink. 

 

"They play a really good ball through, and when they run on to a ball, nine times out of 10 they''re gonna be in an offsides position," Moore said. "We tried to anticipate that move. Of course, they capitalized on that one (Day''s first goal). 

 

"Give those guys (Starkville) credit, they''re gonna do well in the playoffs." 

 

 

 

GIRLS  

 

Starkville 6, Columbus 1 

 

 

 

Columbus High''s shock-opener in the seventh minute wasn''t enough to keep Starkville from dashing the Lady Falcons'' already slim playoff hopes.  

 

CHS would have needed a win by six goals or more to lock down a playoff spot, and Cacovia Millsap''s goal was a solid start.  

 

The freshman forward rounded recently re-instated SHS goalkeeper Raevonne Shoemaker for an easy finish.  

 

Leah Cohrs followed two minutes later with a scuffed free-kick from just outside the box.  

 

It would be one of the last times Columbus threatened Starkville''s goal. 

 

The Lady Jackets responded with six unanswered goals, including four before halftime.  

 

SHS forward Carolina Berryhill scored the first of her two goals with a 14-yard strike in the 15th, which leveled the match at one.  

 

Senior Morgan Miller made it 2-1 just two minutes later after latching on to Noa Hardin''s chipped-pass and beating CHS ''keeper Lauren David via five-hole.  

 

Berryhill netted her second in the 21st with a strong shot from just outside the box. David got two hands on the ball but spilled it into her own net.  

 

David''s misfortune in goal continued in the 33rd when Hannah Laird bent a corner kick through the 6-yard box and into Columbus'' goal. 

 

The response to Millsap''s opener was just what SHS head coach Anna Albritton was looking for. 

 

"I heard it," Albritton said. "I was yelling it too, because I didn''t think they were stepping up and playing like they should have played. Columbus was beating us to the 50-50 balls. But I heard some players, the people I expected to step up and start saying stuff started communicating to the rest of the players what they needed to do. They got their attention." 

 

Starkville (12-3, 2-1) got second-half goals from Haley Jenkins and Tierra Tillman. 

 

The Lady Jackets face Neshoba Central today and play at Tupelo on Saturday before beginning postseason play on Jan. 25. 

 

Berryhill thinks the team''s late-season form is ahead of where it was during the same point last season. 

 

"The chemistry is really good because we''ve been talking more," she said. "We have more players, even though they''re younger. We''ve got more talented players even though we lost some. The new people that have come on are really good." 

 

Columbus'' injury woes have seen it play without Emily Louie and Sparkle Jennings since the beginning of the season.  

 

The Lady Falcons dressed only 15 players Friday.  

 

Still, the marked improvement of a 6-10-2 record -- the Lady Falcons finished 2-19 last season -- has provided optimism for head coach Lyn Taylor. 

 

"We''re growing and playing through a lot of injuries and some inexperience," Taylor said. "Every game is the same for us right now, but our girls are working hard and this program is building." 

 

Columbus plays Tupelo today and MSMS to close the season on Saturday. 

 

 

 

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