By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Starkville has its sights set on defending its MHSAA 5A state championship in boys high school soccer.
Saltillo, a program on the rise, continues to build.
In the state playoffs Wednesday, the edge went to the established Yellow Jackets, who stung the visiting and climbing Tigers 6-0 in their first-round match.
Juan Salazar scored two goals and had two assists to power Starkville (14-1-1).
“We’re trying to get better and better each game,” said the junior forward. “It gets harder and harder this time of year. We’ve got a pretty young team. You try to improve each game.”
Starkville lost seven seniors from last year’s state title team. The Jackets’ lineup featured five sophomores.
There was some concern when the season started as to how the young players would perform.
“It took a little while and the returning guys were worried,” Starkville coach Brian Bennett said. “After that first practice, they knew we had a chance to be good.”
‘very good team’
Saltillo (10-9) won just two games four years ago in coach Eric Reynolds’ first season. He knew coming in, however, that stopping Starkville would not be an easy task.
“They can move the ball around and capitalize on your mistakes,” he said. “We played with them for 25 minutes, then they got behind our front line. They stretch you out and attack.
“They are a very good team.”
Dylan Howard scored the game’s first goal in the 20th minute. Salazar followed with his first goal in the 30th minute to give the Jackets a 2-0 cushion.
Late in the first half, Starkville got two goals from Justin Gordon and Taylor Wise to take a 4-0 halftime lead. Gordon scored the lone goal for the Jackets in last season’s 1-0 state championship victory against Pascagoula.
In the second half, Wise and Salazar scored goals before Starkville went to its bench in the final 20 minutes.