Central Hinds holds off depleted Flashes in MAIS soccer semifinals
Published 8:08 am Friday, February 24, 2017
RAYMOND — The MAIS Class AAA boys’ soccer semifinal between Central Hinds and St. Aloysius was a last man standing match.
Central Hinds lost both of its goal keepers to torn ACLs a couple of weeks ago, as well as another starter to injury. St. Al was missing five starters because of injuries and other obligations.
The game was physical and close. And, in the end, the champion kept its belt for at least a couple more days.
Central Hinds scored three goals in the first half and withstood a late flurry by St. Al to win 3-2 and advance to the Class AAA championship game. The Cougars are in the state final for the eighth time in nine years, and are seeking their fourth consecutive championship. Their winning streak increased to 59, with three of those wins this season against St. Al.
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“It’s awesome. We pushed hard this season and had a lot of competition from (St. Al). We came out on top and we’re ready for No. 60,” said Central Hinds senior forward Tanner Leggett, who had a goal and an assist in Thursday’s game. “We knew it was going to be a battle when we came in. This is the third straight game they’ve played us tough, but we took care of business.”
Central Hinds (15-0) will play Starkville Academy Saturday at 1 p.m. on its home field. Starkville Academy beat Heritage Academy 2-0 in the other Class AAA semifinal on Thursday.
St. Al finished with a 16-6-1 record in a season where the wheels came off in the last two weeks. Among the missing starters were transfer student Jorrit Willemsen (family obligations) and Connor Bottin (knee injury), who combined to score 60 goals this season.
Considering what they were dealing with and the juggernaut they were up against, the Flashes were more than pleased with how things ended up.
“I’m very proud. We held their number one scorer to one goal, and other guys just ended up scoring. Our defense really outplayed themselves. We just couldn’t find anything on offense today,” St. Al midfielder Justin Ehrgott said. “I’m very proud of how we did. I never expected us to get this far with losing people. But we stuck together and worked hard.”
Central Hinds won easily, 6-1, when it played St. Al in Vicksburg but the first meeting was a close 5-4 game in Raymond. Thursday’s semifinal played out a lot more like the first.
Leggett scored off an assist from Kyle White in the fourth minute and then returned the favor as White headed in a throw-in from Leggett in the 11th minute. St. Al scored on an own goal off a deflected throw-in between the two to leave it at 2-1 after a wild opening stretch.
Both teams missed some scoring chances — St. Al’s Kieran Theriot headed a ball off the crossbar in the opening minute and both sides misfired on free kicks from just outside the box — but there were few shots. They only combined for seven in the first half.
Finally, in the 35th minute, Gunar Robinson broke the stalemate. The Central Hinds forward fired a laser beam past St. Al keeper Townsend Derivaux and into the upper left portion of the net to give the Cougars a 3-1 lead.
“That was huge. That gave us a lot of momentum going into the second half. We got the wheels going straight to where we’re going,” Leggett said.
The second half played out a lot like the first, only with less scoring. Central Hinds missed on a couple of opportunities in front of the net, and St. Al didn’t put a shot on goal until about 10 minutes remained. Derivaux kept the Flashes in it by making nine saves in the second half.
In the 72nd minute, Kieran Theriot headed in a short free kick by Gradon Bourne to pull the Flashes within one, at 3-2, and the momentum flipped for the final stretch. St. Al had three shots on goal in the last 10 minutes, including a long knuckleball by Bourne that Central Hinds keeper Peyton Banes saved while falling to the ground.
Central Hinds managed to hang on until the final whistle, and will get to play for yet another state championship. St. Al turned a hopeful eye toward next season.
“This team is great. And the young players I have are going to be great next year,” St. Al coach Scott Mathis said. “This was the championship game. So (Central Hinds) is going to go into next season with (60) wins and we’re going to take them.”
MAIS CLASS AAA PLAYOFFS
Thursday – Semifinals
Central Hinds 3, St. Aloysius 2
Starkville Academy 2, Heritage Academy 0
Saturday – Championship
1 p.m. – Starkville Academy at Central Hinds