By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
FLOWOOD – Tupelo’s girls are headed back to the state championship game thanks to some heads-up play by four reserves.
Little-used seniors Carley Carruth and Hannah Gilmore, along with freshman Madeline Harrison and sophomore Lauren Losordo, came off the bench Tuesday to help the Lady Wave defeat Northwest Rankin 2-0 in the MHSAA Class 6A state soccer semifinals.
Tupelo (14-2-1) lost starters Bryson Rial, Katie Taylor and Lexie Wise to injuries at various stages in the physical match.
“We had people out there who had not played in a big game, and they stepped up,” Tupelo coach Shelley Miller said.
Miller is not sure which injured players will be available for Friday’s 4 p.m. state championship match against Ocean Springs in Clinton.
“If they can’t go, we’ll figure it out,” she said. “We’ll make it work.”
This is Tupelo’s second consecutive trip to the title game. Brandon defeated the unbeaten Lady Wave last season.
Tupelo won its last state title in 2006 under Miller.
“We just wanted another shot,” said senior keeper Kat Stratton. “Like I said the other day, we’ve have passion. I’m really proud of our team right now.”
Stratton recorded her 11th shutout of the season against the Lady Cougars (17-5-4), but it wasn’t easy. She stopped at least five shots by standout forward Kayla Thompson, including three in the second half.
“Our defense played really well; they played together,” Miller said.
Maddie Russell scored in the mouth of the goal on a deflection following a shot attempt by Katie Taylor to give the Lady Wave a 1-0 lead in the 38th minute of the first half. Taylor’s attempt came off a free kick by Abbie Banko.
“I just got lucky,” Russell said. “Katie crossed it in, and I ran under the keeper and touched it in.”
Tupelo made it 2-0 in the 64th minute on a cross attempt – from right to left – by Smith Ann Chiles that found the net.
“I was just trying to cross it when Abbie Banko played the ball down the line; it went in,” Chiles said.