By Gene Phelps / NEMS Daily Journal
FLOWOOD – Kat Stratton did her homework earlier this week.
It paid off Saturday in Tupelo’s 3-0 victory against Northwest Rankin in the Class 6A girls state soccer quarterfinals.
Stratton, a goalkeeper for the unbeaten Lady Wave (21-0), and her teammates scouted the Lady Cougars’ first-round win against Clinton and noticed their players kicked to the right on penalty shots.
Armed with that knowledge, Stratton knew where Northwest Rankin’s Parker Welch was likely aiming on her penalty kick in the game’s 50th minute.
“They all went to their right when we saw them play,” said Stratton, whose save helped preserve a 1-0 Tupelo lead. “She did go to my right. Usually, people go the easiest way for them.”
Tupelo advances to Tuesday’s semifinals against Madison Central or DeSoto Central.
Welch, a seventh grader, and Northwest Rankin (18-5) seemed to lose their edge after the failed attempt.
“That penalty kick could have changed the game,” Welch said.
In the opening minute of the second half, Welch nearly tied the score, but saw her powerful rocket shot hit the top of the goal.
“It happened all of the sudden … all I could do was watch,” said Stratton, who didn’t have time to react on Welch’s swift kick.
“I wasn’t going to shoot it, but everybody was yelling, ‘Shoot, shoot!’” Welch said, then smiled.
Tupelo took a 2-0 lead in the 57th minute on a goal by Haley Walker. Charde Hannah’s kick into an open goal in the final two minutes wrapped up the Lady Wave’s scoring.
Erin Tucker’s goal on a long assist from Georgia Russell gave Tupelo a 1-0 lead in the game’s ninth minute.
For Stratton and fellow keeper, Hannah McCarty, the shutout was their 14th straight.
“We started off really nervous,” Tupelo coach Shelly Miller said. “It took about 20 minutes for us to settle in and play our game.
“Our back line plays together and we have two of the state’s best keepers.”
Northwest Rankin coach Montgomery Hinton said Welch’s two near misses early in the second half affected his young team.
“We miss the penalty kick and we hit one off the frame,” he said. “Our young kids didn’t respond well.
“Tupelo’s a great team. We had our chances, we just didn’t do it and got beat.”