By Gene Phelps
SALTILLO – Saltillo has won 12 straight high school soccer matches since losing to Tupelo before Thanksgiving.
One of those victories came when the red-hot Tigers defeated Lewisburg 3-1 on a freezing cold Tuesday evening in the first round of the MHSAA Class 5A state playoffs.
Saltillo (12-2-1) will play Ridgeland or New Hope in Saturday’s state quarterfinals. The Tigers would host if Ridgeland wins and travel if New Hope is victorious.
“We’re playing well right now,” Saltillo coach Eric Reynolds said. “We’ve got to keep the momentum going.”
The Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute on Connor Wade’s kick from the right corner of the box.
Later in the half, during the 24th minute, Alex Rodgers scored on a header off a crossing kick from Lance Crabtree to build a 2-0 advantage.
“Crabtree has done that all year for us,” Reynolds said. “He’s leading us in assists. He puts the ball in the box.”
Crabtree, a junior, missed a shot on goal before delivering the assist to Rodgers.
“My shot hit the post and I followed it up with a crossover to Rodgers,” Crabtree said. “We’re playing well right now. We’re hoping to get our center defender, Grant Garrison back for Saturday.”
Garrison suffered a knee injury a few weeks ago in a division game against Oxford. Reynolds said having him return to the lineup makes the Tigers tougher to defend.
“He makes us faster up top,” the coach noted. “Everybody is connecting on the field and moving the ball. Tonight we got the quick touches you need against a flat-back four (Lewisburg’s defense).”
Eloy Vega scored in the 34th minute for Lewisburg and cut the score to 2-1 at halftime.
The Tigers added an insurance goal in the second half off a direct kick that AJ Rye rocketed past the Patriots’ keeper.
“Lewisburg made some adjustments to our attack,” Reynolds said. “They squeezed the middle. We had to change our attack and work a little wide.
“They put two forwards up (on offense) in the second half and we switched to our lockdown defense.”