Loss hurts Gators’ playoff hopes

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 20, 2008

As the Vicksburg Gators hit the halfway point of the season, it’s almost all the way done.

Ridgeland’s Steven Smith scored on a penalty kick in the 14th minute of the first half, and Trey Taliaferro scored the clinching goal with 10 minutes left in the game as the Titans beat Vicksburg 2-0 on Friday.

The loss, along with last week’s 3-0 defeat against Pearl, dealt a crippling blow to Vicksburg’s playoff hopes. VHS must beat Pearl by four goals, or Ridgeland by three, when they meet again in January, to clinch a spot. Winning both games will be tough enough, but doing so by such a wide margin will take on a whole new degree of difficulty.

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“I think we’re pretty much done. Our odds aren’t very good,” Vicksburg senior midfielder Patrick Parker said. “We’re going to have to find some spark. Some positive attitudes. It’s hard when you have five or six on the field that want to win and some others that don’t care.”

Looking at such an uphill climb is an unexpected position for the Gators to be in. The team returned all but one starter from last year’s Class 4A semifinalists and expected to make a run at a state championship this season. Instead, they’ve stumbled to a 3-6-3 record — 0-2 in Divison 3-4A — and will spend the holiday break trying to regroup.

Vicksburg hosts Pearl on Jan. 6, and plays at Ridgeland (7-3-3, 2-0) on Jan. 20.

“It’s a tall order, but we’re going to practice and try to get there,” Vicksburg coach Jason Bennett said.

Bennett also echoed Parker’s sentiment that the Gators need to pick up the intensity in the second half of the season.

“Desire. Playing hard for 80 minutes and beating people to balls. We have the talent, we just don’t put it together and play as a team,” Bennett said.

(G) VHS 2, Ridgeland 1

Raven Lawrence nervously dangled her hands as the referee rattled off the instructions for the penalty kick. The most nerve-wracking part was the final line — make it, and her team wins.

Lawrence did make it, and her team did win.

Lawrence beat Ridgeland keeper C.J. Winship low to the right side, giving the Missy Gators a shootout victory over their division rivals. Vicksburg keeper Kelli Brewer made two saves in the shootout — as well as four in the two 10-minute overtime periods — and the Missy Gators (7-5, 1-1 Division 3-4A) outscored Ridgeland 4-3 on the penalty kicks.

“Basically, it erases our Pearl loss. Confidence-wise, I think it’s a big booster,” Vicksburg coach Kevin Manton said. “It’s tremendous for our confidence. We send ‘08 out on a good note.”

Ridgeland’s Carmen Bofill scored just 90 seconds into the game to give Ridgeland (5-5-1, 0-2) a quick lead. Each team had a player ejected on a hard red card, though, and most of the game was a defensive slugfest. Diari Gilliam knocked in a rebound of a Becky Wilson shot to tie the game at 1-1 in the 14th minute of the second half.

Gilliam got her hard red with 12 minutes left, though, and wasn’t around for the shootout. After two scoreless overtimes, the teams lined up for the penalty kicks.

Vicksburg made its first three, while Brewer made two saves to put the Missy Gators on the brink of victory. Ridgeland tied it, though, as Rachel Harris and Rhae’Ven Ellis converted and Vicksburg’s Amber Dissoe-Lynn missed. Lawrence then strolled to the ball and knocked it past Winship for the game-winner.

“I just took my time and tried not to rush the shot. I was really, really nervous. I was on edge,” Lawrence said, adding that getting a win over a Ridgeland team that beat Vicksburg twice last season was especially sweet. “That’s a really big improvement because they beat the stink out of us last year.”

Contact Ernest Bowker at ebowker@vicksburgpost.com