STATE CHAMPS … AGAIN [02/10/02]CLINTON

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 11, 2002

STATE CHAMPS … AGAIN

[02/10/02]CLINTON Brandi Parker could hardly walk, let alone run.

Her legs were so battered and beaten from a ferocious Brandon defense, she almost needed help to the sideline.

Her head swirled and swelled from an overtime head-butt that forced her out of the game temporarily.

Still, somehow, the scrappy 5-foot-4 sophomore sensation dribbled and juked her way past three of the same defenders that had pummeled her all day.

Parker lofted a shot past Brandon goalie Karen Denney her 36th and most important goal of her career for a 1-0 win in the second sudden-death overtime Saturday to give the Missy Gators (19-2) their fifth state championship in seven years. It only took 107 minutes, 35 seconds after the teams took the field.

“I felt horrible,” Parker said. “I felt like I couldn’t even run anymore. Once I got past the last defender, though, I knew I had the back post open.

“Right after I shot it, I knew I had made a good, clean shot to the back post where she wasn’t at.”

The goal, just 2:25 before the game would have been decided in a shootout, set off a wild celebration. It also capped off six seniors’ perfect run through three years of the playoffs and gave them a third championship ring.

“Three years out of four, now that’s awesome,” said senior Neely Nasif, who was near Parker on the game-winner, waiting for a possible rebound.

“When she got it by herself, I knew it was going in.”

Parker had a chance taken away early in the first 10-minute overtime when she was tripped inside the goal box, but the referee said it happened outside the box. Fouls inside the box result in a penalty kick.

“The official told me that the foul started outside the box and it continued,” Vicksburg coach Kevin Manton said.

A free kick was booted away by Brandon, but a fire was lit under a Missy Gators team that had attempted only three shots in regulation.

Vicksburg peppered Denney with five shots in the first overtime and three in the second, but each time the junior made the saves.

“I didn’t think anyone was ever going to score,” Missy Gator Cassie Griffing said. “I really thought we were going to go into a shootout, and I was so scared.

“But then I saw BP dribbling it and every time that I see her dribbling like that, she almost always makes a perfect shot.”

Manton said the first overtime into a stiff wind was the turning point in the game. The Lady Bulldogs did not attempt a shot in the first OT and had only one in the four overtimes.

“I think it was our experience, we’ve been here,” Manton said of the overtime. “These girls have been through overtimes.”

Brandon had one chance late in the second overtime, but the shot glanced off the post.

“They played better than we did today,” said Brandon coach Fred Schelver, whose team entered the game with the state’s top ranking. “Our girls played hard, but theirs played better, and that’s all I’ve got to say.”

Schelver’s squad, which used Denney’s goal keeping and a very physical style to enter the game 21-1, bullied Vicksburg, continuously knocking the smaller Missy Gators to the ground.

Brandon was whistled for 37 fouls, while Vicksburg was called for just 10.

“They were so physical, I thought I was going to get killed,” Parker said.

The rough play had an effect early as the Lady Bulldogs outshot VHS 10-3 in regulation. The Missy Gators did not attempt a shot in the second half, but a strong defensive effort one of the Missy Gators’ strong points in their playoff run kept Brandon out of the goal.

“It was the entire defense today, not just one person,” said junior goalie Viola Howard, who made 10 saves. “Coach Manton’s motto is, if they don’t score, they can’t win.’ They didn’t score.”

Brandon’s best chance of the game came with nine minutes to play in the second half. Howard came out to make a stop, but the ball was kicked toward the goal by Kathryn White. Three VHS defenders were at the goal line and junior Laura Beth Peyton kicked the ball out of the goal into Howard’s waiting arms.

Even Leanne Feibelman, who missed most of the game taking the ACT, returned to see action late in the game.

“God almighty, the defense played well today,” Manton said. “Every one of them.”

Twenty seconds after that, Parker left the game after she bumped heads with a Brandon player. She was sidelined for about five minutes.

Brandon had one more shot late in the second half, but it slid just wide.

Vicksburg hit the post four times in the game twice in overtime.

The Missy Gators laid claim, again, as the most dominating girls soccer team in Mississippi. In seven years, the Missy Gators have played in six championship games, losing only to Clinton in 1997-98 in a shootout.

But Manton loses six seniors five of them starters heading into next season.

“This was my last game to play with these girls, and I love them,” said senior Beth Ashby, who was knocked hard in the back in the second overtime, but played on gimpy legs the rest of the way. “I was not coming out of that game. I was not going to let us lose to Brandon.”

Now the Missy Gators, who entered the game as the No. 4 team in The Clarion-Ledger’s poll the only state poll will earn the state’s top ranking for another year.

“This today was a great effort by a great bunch of kids,” Manton said. “They took it upon themselves not to be denied. Somehow, some way, they were going to find a way to win.

“I hate it for Brandon, but it’s where it belongs.”