Staying home the reward for Vikings, Gators

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 18, 2005

[1/15/05]In a lot of ways, the second meeting of the season between Vicksburg and Warren Central is the only regular-season soccer game that matters.

Besides local bragging rights, the game almost always gives the winner at least a spot in the Class 5A playoffs. And in most years, including this one, its outcome determines the division championship and who gets to play at home in the first round of the playoffs.

The two schools will renew their rivalry today at noon at Warren Central. The loser of both the boys and girls games will travel to face Oak Grove whose boys are ranked No. 8 in the state and whose girls are No. 11 in the opening round Jan. 25.

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“There’s a lot riding on it. The way the playoffs are shaking out, whoever wins gets to stay home and doesn’t have to play Oak Grove,” WC boys coach Jay Harrison said. “If we do happen to have to do that, then we’ll do what we have to do, but you always want to try to play a weaker opponent if you can and give yourself a chance in the playoffs. And to do that, we’ve got to beat Vicksburg.”

The Vikings managed to do that in their first meeting with the Gators in December, but it wasn’t easy. Charlie Mullen’s long goal with 15 minutes to play held up as WC claimed a 1-0 victory in the non-division game.

Vicksburg’s effort in that contest showed that these aren’t the same old Gators who have often struggled against their crosstown rivals. VHS is 9-7-1 this season, and surpassed its win total from last year with Tuesday’s victory over St. Andrew’s.

Vicksburg coach Jason Bennett said his team has already proven itself this year, but could make a bigger statement with the Division 6-5A title.

“I think it is (a chance) for the team,” Bennett said. “On the other hand, I think they already proved themselves in the beginning of the year.”

Warren Central’s girls have also proven to longtime power Vicksburg that they’re no longer a pushover. The last three meetings between the teams have resulted in two ties and a 2-1, double-overtime victory by VHS last season.

While today’s game figures to be the same kind of tough, close game, for the first time in ages WC might be the favorites heading in.

The Lady Vikes (13-5-2) enter the game having won three of their last four since a scoreless tie against VHS in December. WC is ranked ninth in the latest Clarion-Ledger soccer poll, while the Missy Gators are unranked.

“As well as we did last year, making it to the second round of the playoffs, and then this year beating a ranked team, we’re finally getting some recognition,” WC coach Kristin Gough said. “We’re rebuilding, and becoming a team that people are starting to take notice of. It feels good, and the girls take pride in that.”

VHS (8-8-2), meanwhile, has been struggling to find consistency. The Missy Gators have played well at times, but been maddeningly mediocre at others and have won only three times since starting the season 5-0.

“We’ve got to get better at what we do,” VHS coach Kevin Manton said, adding that he expects the game against WC to be another close affair. “It’s going to come down to whoever gets a break or whoever makes a mistake.”