Gators ready for first playoff hurdle|[01/30/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Vicksburg boys soccer team opens the first round of the Class 5A playoffs against an unfamiliar foe in the Starkville Yellow Jackets.

Yet lurking in a possible second round match-up is the very familiar Clinton Arrows. To get there, though, the Gators (19-5) must get by Starkville tonight at 5:30 at Memorial Stadium.

The Vicksburg boys are the only local team on its home pitch in the first round. The VHS Missy Gators head to Tupelo while the St. Aloysius boys travel to Amory.

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Third-year Gators coach Jason Bennett feels his team’s strength of schedule should play a big factor against the visiting Yellow Jackets.

&#8220I don’t know if the teams they’ve played are as strong as the ones we’ve played. They’ve played Tupelo twice and Clinton once and that’s the strongest they’ve played.

&#8220They do have Michael Lindsey who is in the national pool of top players but I don’t know if they play him at striker or center-mid,” Bennett said.

Bennett likes how the Gators finished up the regular season with a close loss to the two-time defending champ Arrows to go with wins over division foes Madison Central and Warren Central.

&#8220We’ve played some of our best ball in these last three games. We played Clinton to a tight game and we beat Madison Central.

&#8220If we get to the second round we’ll likely get Clinton at their place. But if we play our A game we can beat them,” Bennett said.

Two of the top Gator players were absent from Monday’s tune-up practice after getting checked by doctors.

The team’s top goal scorer, 2006 Vicksburg Post Player of the Year Michael Cooper, hurt his hamstring three weeks ago. Bennett says Cooper’s leg has shown a lot of improvement and he should be primed for the playoffs.

Goal keeper Bowen Woodson is battling a bronchial infection but he, too, should be ready.

Cooper leads the Gators with 24 goals. Cameron Curtis is next with 20 while left-mid Ryan Ferrington has 14 and Alex Aguilar has nine.

&#8220I think we’re playing well right now,” Curtis said. &#8220We’ve done really well against three teams in the playoffs in Clinton, Northwest Rankin and Madison Central.

&#8220A key for us is when we are passing the ball a lot, we play well. It leads to more of a build up for our scorers,” Curtis said.

The Missy Gators of coach Kevin Manton take on former No. 1 ranked Tupelo at 5 p.m. The Lady Waves (18-2-2) were unbeaten until a recent trip to the Jackson area left them with a pair of losses to north state playoff teams Ridgeland and Madison Central.

&#8220They’re good but they don’t have that dynamic player like they had the last two years in their Gatorade All-American,” Manton said. &#8220They also didn’t have too good of a trip when they came down to Jackson the last time. They left with two losses and a tie.”

The Lady Waves were beaten 3-0 by Madison Central and 4-2 by Ridgeland. They tied the Clinton Lady Arrows.

Vicksburg (12-12-1), meanwhile, has faced 12 playoff teams this season.

&#8220They haven’t played anybody better than what we’ve faced. They beat us earlier in the year but we were without five starters and that game stayed at 1-0 for a long time,” Manton said.

&#8220We just need to play well and play hard and we’re capable of standing in there with them.”

The Missy Gators are led by senior striker Holly Head with 21 goals and eight assists. Diari Gilliam has 16 goals while Daria Lawrence has a team high-15 assists.

The St. Al boys will make their second straight trip to the postseason. The Flashes finished off their regular season Friday by dropping Greenville-Weston 4-0 behind two goals from Bray Jones.