By Gene Phelp/NEMS Daily Journal
Corinth’s boys and Pontotoc’s girls have a chance to make Northeast Mississippi history this weekend in the finals of the MHSAA state soccer tournament.
Since the state playoffs began – boys 1989, girls 1996 – the only area school to win a championship has been Tupelo. The boys have captured five titles and the girls four.
Corinth (20-1-2) gets the first shot at 6 p.m. today when it plays Sacred Heart of Hattiesburg in the Class 1A-2A-3A final at Clinton High School’s football stadium.
Pontotoc (19-4-1) goes for the 4A championship at 9:30 a.m. Saturday when it plays Northeast Jones on the same field.
Warriors coach Gregg Parker said his players have been focused on this goal since their loss to St. Andrew’s in the first round of last season’s playoffs.
“That’s when the spark started,” he said. “It continued through conditioning work in the summer. They bought into the hard work.”
Corinth knocked off Madison St. Joseph 2-0 in the semifinals. The Warriors’ other playoff victories were against Greenville St. Joseph, 7-1, and Mississippi School for Math and Science, 6-0.
Sophomore forward John Mathis leads the team in scoring with 40 goals. He scored one of those in the semifinals.
“He never quits,” Parker said. “He knows what he wants to do. You have to keep up with him.”
Another sophomore playing a key role this season is goalie Cullen Grantham. At center midfield, senior Estevan Garcia, controls the transition.
Parker wants his players to “savor every aspect” of the championship game and enjoy what they’ve worked so hard for. His players also know their mission isn’t complete.
“They really believe they can win (the state title),” he said. “We’re going to bring the battle to it.”
The Lady Warriors ate tacos to celebrate their first trip to the championship game following Wednesday’s semifinal win against Newton County.
If they win state Saturday morning, what’s for lunch?
“If we win it could get crazy; we may supersize,” Pontotoc coach Marty Pettit said, then laughed.
Pontotoc’s strength has been its defense, starting with freshman Emily Munn in goal. The sweeper is senior Hannah Rayburn, the fullbacks are senior Andrea Swanson and sophomore Hannah Holland, and the stoppers are eighth graders Karleigh Grisham and Rebecca Miller.
“That’s a pretty solid cast,” Pettit said. “Our defense has been stifling this season.”
Newton County’s goal in the semifinals was the first one given up by the Lady Warriors, 3-1 winners, since the second week in December.
Offensively, the Warriors attack with junior center mid Hannah Drope and forwards Shelby Drope, an eighth grader, and Carley Naugher, a sophomore.
Three other seniors, forwards Lauren Howell and Alicia Lipsey, and outside mid Meagan Henry complete the lineup.
Northeast Jones puts its skill players up top and uses its speed to beat opponents. Pettit believes his team’s tough schedule, which included two matches against Tupelo, has prepared his club for speed and skill.
“We’re not going to change anything we do now,” he said. “We’re going to do what we do.”
Pontotoc’s other playoff wins were against Lafayette, 3-0, and West Lauderdale, 1-0.
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or firstname.lastname@example.org