By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
CLINTON – Tupelo didn’t have all its weapons for Friday’s state championship game.
Ocean Springs did.
The Coast team scored two first-half goals then held on to defeat the Lady Wave, which played without four starters, 2-0, to capture the MHSAA Class 6A soccer crown at Clinton High School stadium.
“You come into a game like this and you’re missing your two center backs, your leading scorer and your third leading scorer, and you’re playing for the state championship,” Tupelo coach Shelley Miller said. “Everybody who was on the field played their hearts out. I couldn’t have asked anything more from this group of girls.”
Forwards Katie Taylor, who led the Lady Wave with 25 goals this season, and Bryson Rial suffered injuries in Tuesday’s state semifinal against Northwest Rankin. Defender Lexie Wise, who was injured this week, made it 16 minutes before exiting the field for the day. Her sister, Liza Wise, hasn’t played in more than a week.
In the second half, midfielder Sarah Lambert Hollingsworth went down with a knee injury and defender Maddie Russell suffered an ankle injury.
“It’s kind of comical; I don’t know what else to say,” Miller said. “Everybody I asked to go on the field played hard.”
Ocean Springs used an aggressive attack early to score both of its goals in the opening 21 minutes.
Delaney Gustafson scored on a rebound following a miss to give the Greyhounds a 1-0 lead.
Ashton Stennis scored on a header off a pass by Monique Autmon to make it 2-0.
“(Stennis) is great at finishing a ball,” Autmon said. “I saw her making a run in. As soon as I hit the pass, I knew she was going to be there.”
Tupelo defender Margaret Burleson said Ocean Springs’ aggressive style was hard to handle.
“We were caught off guard,” she said. “They came at us with a lot of speed.”
Ocean Springs coach Patrick Hayes planned to play aggressive the entire 80 minutes, but Tupelo adjusted and slowed them down the second half.
“Tupelo started taking control in the second half; they took it to us,” he said. “We were tired.”
The state championship was the first for Ocean Springs (19-4) in girls soccer. This was also the first time the program had played in the title game.
Tupelo (14-3-1) lost in the championship game to Brandon last season.