By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
SALTILLO – The Lady Tigers first controlled their nerves, then controlled the ball and ultimately controlled Wednesday night’s MHSAA Class 5A first-round playoff game.
The Saltillo High girls soccer team blanked Hernando 7-0 to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals, where it will play at Pearl. A start time should be determined sometime today.
“We started off a little slow, a little sloppy,” said Saltillo coach Eric Reynolds, whose team improved to 15-4-1 on the year. “They got their nerves (under control), and the ball movement and ball control was key.
“The times that we didn’t move the ball well, we tried to dribble through defenders and we didn’t do as well.
“But when we moved the ball around and got them out of position, we scored four or five backside goals on them.”
The Lady Tigers scored their first goal less than four minutes into the contest, when Abby Wade connected with Alyssa Kelley. Less than 10 minutes later, Wade was on the receiving end of a feed by Kelley (three assists) to make it 2-0.
Saltillo wasted no time in scoring its third and final goal of the first half, as Catherine Plunk scored off an assist from Claire Cash not even 60 seconds after Wade’s tally.
“Since we found out that we’re going to the playoffs and found out who we were going to play, we had just been concentrating solely on ball control,” Reynolds said, “because if you can control the ball and move it around, you’re going to get people out of position.
“And there were a few times where actually the goalie was out and the backside defender made some great plays and kept us from scoring. But more times than not, we got the score on those backside goals.”
The Lady Tigers certainly did, as they didn’t have to necessarily score from shooting hard at the goal from a distance, but by simply moving the ball in on runs and getting the Hernando keeper out of position.
Kelley scored again in the second half, this time off neat passing by Wade (two assists in the game) and Cash, to expand Saltillo’s lead to 4-zip.
Plunk and Wade scored their team’s fifth and sixth goals, respectively, and Cash, who finished with two assists, got into the scoring act with the seventh tally of the night. The last three goals came in a span of 4 minutes, 30 seconds from one another.
“The ball movement and the ball control were definitely key to the win tonight,” Reynolds said.
And credit the Lady Tigers’ three-defender set of Lexi Black, Annalee Jaggars and Keely Mitchell for shutting down Hernando’s attack.
Morgan Jackson was also impressive in goal, turning away a total of nine shots to preserve the shutout, especially during the final 10 minutes of the match when Hernando was trying desperately to score.
“We fought hard but we looked a little sluggish tonight,” said Hernando coach Jana Perkins, whose team ended its campaign at 4-7. “We have a young team, but we’re excited to be back next year and we’ll work hard this offseason.”