Saltillo boys’ secret: Sticking together

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Saltillo's AJ Rye, left, celebrates with his teammate Alex Rodgers after Rodgers scored against Lewisburg during a playoff game last week.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Saltillo’s AJ Rye, left, celebrates with his teammate Alex Rodgers after Rodgers scored against Lewisburg during a playoff game last week.

By Brandon Speck

Daily Journal

Saltillo knocked its Goliath, Ridgeland, to the ground. Now the Tigers want to cross over into soccer’s promised land and continue the program’s climb.

But to get to Clinton for Saturday’s MHSAA Class 5A championship, Saltillo has to win a 14th straight game, today at 6 p.m. at Germantown in the state semifinals.

“All 11 guys on the field, including the guys on the bench, everybody’s got the same goal in mind,” fifth-year coach Eric Reynolds said. “We’re all playing with the same mindset.”

Saltillo (13-2-1) had scored one goal in two games against Ridgeland in two previous playoff losses and scored three in the first 10 minutes Saturday, the first from junior Conner Wade, then the first two of junior Ian Huckaby’s hat trick. That’s proof of the progress, advancing past the first-ever second-round match to the first state semifinal.

Saltillo won two games in Reynolds’ first season.

“It’s nothing I’ve done,” Reynolds said. “These guys have taken the philosophy that we’ve tried to put together and just playing together.”

Saltillo is one of two area boys teams still in the hunt. Lafayette beat defending Class 4A champ Pontotoc on Saturday. The Commodores host Florence at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Knocking down the Jackson and DeSoto-area soccer giants has been a task for North teams over the years. Fields seem to be leveling.

‘Let’s play’

“It’s like I always felt the mindset was survive and let’s just don’t get beat real bad,” Reynolds said. “Now, that’s changed. Let’s play with these folks. That’s the biggest difference.”

All four goal-scorers Saturday have been key all season, including junior Zak Spradling, the first player off the bench. Senior AJ Rye’s free kick capped Saturday’s blowout.

Sam Cash, a sophomore, had a pair of assists.

So did junior Lance Crabtree, who left Saturday’s game for back X-rays after a hard fall. He had just had a beautiful crossing assist to Spradling.

Reynolds said Crabtree turned out to have a pulled muscle, though it was near his spine. He is hoping the junior will be ready tonight.

brandon.speck@journalinc.com