By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
CLARKDALE – The Ravens and 49ers have nothing on South Pontotoc’s Lady Cougars.
The Pontotoc County school defeated Clarkdale 4-3 Thursday in a down-to-the-wire state semifinal to earn a berth opposite Hattiesburg Sacred Heart in the MHSAA Class 1A-2A-3A soccer championship match.
“This is awesome,” said Lady Cougars junior Tristan Kitchens, who scored the game-winning goal in the 75th minute of regulation. “This will be the Super Bowl for South Pontotoc.”
The Lady Cougars (14-5) are making their appearance in the title match, which is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at Clinton High School’s football stadium.
Kitchens’ goal – a one-on-one shot in front of the box – answered a three-goal scoring run by Clarkdale (11-5) in the second half. Haley Hutcherson tied the score at 3-3 on a free kick from the sideline for the Lady Bulldogs in the 74th minute.
“I knew I had to do it for my team,” Kitchens said. “We’ve worked so hard to get here.”
South Pontotoc coach Horace Kitchens, the father of Tristan, was thrilled with the victory, but not excited about Clarkdale’s rally from being down 3-0.
“We had the momentum; I think we thought we had them,” he said. “(Clarkdale) didn’t know that. We’re going to work hard on shooting and our defensive skills before Saturday.”
Kitchens scored in the game’s fourth minute – a one-on-one shot past Clarkdale keeper Molly McLeod – to give the Lady Cougars a 1-0 lead.
South Pontotoc took a 2-0 lead in the 26th minute on a goal by Judith Mills, who fired a rocket from the right of the box to the left corner of the net.
Mattie Mills scored in the 60th minute with a driving shot to the right corner to the give the Lady Cougars a 3-0 lead.
Clarkdale was aggressive with its attack in the second half and scored on goals by Skylar Spears and Kayla Phillips in the 64th and 66th minute. Phillips’ score came on a penalty kick.
“I’m proud of this team,” Horace Kitchens said. “They don’t quit.”