St. Al goes for first state soccer championship tonight in Starkville

Published 8:00 am Saturday, February 24, 2018

In the postgame euphoria of Wednesday’s state semifinal win, St. Aloysius’ Jack Dowe did what any player would do and said he felt like the Flashes would go on to win in the championship game.

A second later he took it back.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” he said with a laugh.

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It was probably a wise move. For all their success and skill, it wouldn’t hurt the Flashes to have luck on their side as well when they return to the field on Saturday.

St. Al (13-5) will take on Starkville Academy at 6 p.m. at the Mississippi State Soccer Field on the MSU campus, in the MAIS Class AAA boys championship game.

It’s the first time St. Al has ever played for a state title in boys soccer. Starkville Academy (9-7) is in the Class AAA final for the second year in a row.

“I’ve been dreaming of this since I was in seventh grade. It’s crazy,” said Dowe, a senior forward who has had three goals — including both game-winners — and two assists in St. Al’s two playoff victories so far.

The biggest challenge for the Flashes might be putting their last game behind them. They knocked off four-time defending Class AAA champion Central Hinds, 2-1, and ended the Cougars’ 71-game winning streak in the process. Central Hinds had not lost since the 2013 state championship game.

St. Al had lost five times to Central Hinds over the past two seasons, including an embarrassing 8-0 defeat earlier this year and in the 2017 state semifinals. Wednesday’s victory was one that its players will never forget — but also one they have to, in order to avoid a letdown when the stakes grow even bigger on Saturday.

“I think it is (tougher) because of the pressure,” said St. Al coach Scott Mathis, who led the school’s girls’ team to the Class AAA championship in 2015. “If they can keep everything in check, they’re going to be fine. I’ve been in that championship game with the girls, and they almost gave it away. But we held on and did it, and I think the boys can do the same.”

Mathis didn’t have to go back too far to see how the right mindset can affect the outcome of a game. The Flashes, perhaps looking ahead to their nemesis Central Hinds, struggled to get past Adams County Christian School in the first round of the playoffs. They trailed 2-1 at halftime before scoring twice in the second half to win 3-2.

Mathis said that was a bit of a wake-up call.

“After ACCS, I’m not going to rule anything out,” Mathis said. “What we’ve done is beat the top team in the state, and we’re going to play off of that and focus on what we’re going to do next.”

Although it is in the championship game for the second year in a row, Starkville Academy took a similar route as St. Al to get there. The Volunteers beat Indianola Academy 5-1 in the first round, then won 1-0 against a Heritage Academy squad that had beaten them twice in the regular season.

Brody Pierce, who spent most of the winter with the basketball team, has scored four of the Volunteers’ six goals in the playoffs. His total includes the game-winner against Heritage.

Now both the Flashes and Volunteers have one final obstacle to clear before they can truly celebrate.

“We’ve got to get over that hump sometime,” Mathis said. “I told them, ‘You guys have got what it takes to do it,’ so let’s just do it.”

St. Aloysius (13-5) at Starkville Academy (9-7)
Saturday, 6 p.m.
At Mississippi State Soccer Field

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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