By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
MADISON – Kat Stratton didn’t quite know how to react following Tupelo’s 1-0 victory over Madison Central in Tuesday’s MHSAA Class 6A state soccer semifinals.
“I didn’t know whether to cry or scream,” she said.
The Lady Wave’s junior keeper, however, had only one decision to make during the pulse-pounding 80-minute match – stop everything that came her way.
“We’re blessed to have her,” Tupelo coach Shelly Miller said. “She played with nerves of steel. Our defense played well in shutting down the best two players (Madison’s Marion Crowder and Hailey Brohaugh).”
Stratton’s brilliant defensive effort – and a goal in the 67th minute by sophomore forward Charde Hannah – helped top-ranked Tupelo (22-0) reach Saturday’s state championship match for the first time since the 2007 season.
The Lady Wave will play Brandon, a team they beat for the school’s third state title in 2006, at 5:30 p.m. at Clinton High School’s football stadium.
The win was especially sweet for Miller, who has seen her teams eliminated by the Lady Jaguars the last fourth seasons – three straight times in the state semifinals, including last year’s 1-0 loss in Tupelo.
“Last year was a heartbreaker,” she said. “Anybody could have won today. I think we wanted it more.”
Madison Central (19-3-2) saw its season end, but not without a fight.
Crowder connected on back-to-back shots on goal in the final minute of the first half only to see them turned away by a scrambling and leaping Stratton.
In the 52nd minute, Brohaugh’s free shot on goal was stopped by Stratton. On the kick, Tupelo’s keeper didn’t bite on Crowder’s fake at attempting the shot.
“I really don’t know what I was thinking,” Stratton said. “I was just saving the ball. Marion and Hailey were playing good balls. They almost got it in a few times.”
Hannah scored her goal when Madison Central’s sophomore keeper Rachel Ashworth came out of the box to make a play.
“The Tupelo kid (Hannah) is fast,” MC coach Matt Woods said. “My keeper thought she could get it.”