Lady Flashes move on

Published 12:02 am Sunday, January 30, 2011

St. Aloysius faced a lot of challenges Saturday afternoon in its second round Class 1A-2A-3A playoff game.

First, they had to deal with a stout team from South Pontotoc. Second, the weather was unusually warm for late January, and third, a handful of Lady Flashes were battling a variety of ailments.

One of those ill was defender Grace Franco, who did not start because of a respiratory ailment, but still managed to make the day’s biggest save and send St. Aloysius into Tuesday’s North State championship game for the second straight year.

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Franco, who was guarding the near right post on a corner kick, booted away a 15-yard shot from South Pontotoc’s Jala Parker in the game’s 63rd minute. It was the fifth and final shot the Lady Cougars got on goal in the second half as St. Al held on for a 1-0 win.

“I really didn’t know where to be,” Franco said. “I just got right in front of the post and when the ball came, I just kicked it away.”

The Lady Flashes (10-9-1) advanced to host division rival Madison-St. Joseph in the North State final on Tuesday. St. Joe, which beat St. Al twice in the regular season and in last year’s North State final, beat the Mississippi School for Math and Sciences in another Saturday quarterfinal, 5-0.

“It’s awesome to win this,” Riveros said. “So many people doubted us from the beginning that we wouldn’t make it this far.”

The game’s lone score was an own goal in the 22nd minute. St. Al controlled the first 20 minutes, but shots by Catherine Smith and Riley Griffith were stopped by South Pontotoc keeper Cady Hester. Another Griffith try was blocked by defender Breanna Kitchens.

Finally, at the 21:20 mark, Griffith made a throw-in to Haylee Prescott. Prescott’s kick went near the left post where South Pontotoc’s Kitchens deflected the ball off the post and into the net. Prescott was credited with the goal and Riley Griffith had the assist.

Griffith said South Pontotoc (11-2) played well. The Lady Cougars maintained their offensive pressure throughout the second half, but sweeper Stephanie Riveros stopped several advances with excellent clearing kicks.

“They had a lot of good players and they stayed on us, while we have players who had never played before but made some good plays like Grace did on the ball on the upper post,” Griffith said.

First-year Lady Flashes coach Suzie Channell was elated to see her young team hold on.

“We just beat a good team,” Channell said. “We didn’t quit. We pulled through it. South Pontotoc really pounded the net, but we got some saves like the one from Grace, and she was one of our sick ones. We had so many ill today, plus it was a lot warmer weather than what we’ve been playing in.”

South Pontotoc coach H.L. Kitchens gave credit to St. Al’s defense.

“No. 7 (Parker) is our best player and they doubled her all day, much like how we tried to cover up No. 25 (Griffith),” Kitchens said. “They had some real good defenders. The field’s size hurt us. It’s 150 x 180 here and our field is much bigger. We couldn’t work the ball wide.”

St Al outshot the Lady Cougars 5-3 in the first half. South Pontotoc’s best chance in the first half came on a free kick from 45 yards in the 28th minute, but St. Al keeper Alexa Baldizon made the second of her four saves by catching the ball.

South Pontotoc took control in the second half and outshot St. Al 5-2. Baldizon batted away a shot in the 45th minute and Prescott headed away a corner kick a few minutes later.

Following Franco’s save, the Lady Flashes finally regained control with some drives by Nicole Hayward after some long clearing kicks by Riveros. In the 76th minute, Griffith got to take a free kick from 30 yards but was high and wide on the shot.