Missy Gators’ season ends with playoff loss to Saltillo

Published 10:35 pm Saturday, January 28, 2023

The Vicksburg Missy Gators waited and waited … and then waited some more … to play on Saturday.

When the game finally started, however, they never got the big moment they’d waited for.

Saltillo scored three times in the first half, and then twice more late in the second, and beat Vicksburg 5-0 in a third-round MHSAA Class 5A girls’ soccer playoff game at Memorial Stadium.

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Saltillo (16-3) advanced to the semifinals on Tuesday against Lafayette, while Vicksburg finished an outstanding season with a 9-5-2 record.

Vicksburg won its fourth consecutive region championship, as well as its first playoff game since 2010. The only two seniors on the roster and defenders Kristiana Nevels and Jamiyah Gaines.

“I’m really proud of us. We made it a long way and we did better this year. Every year since I’ve been here, since seventh grade, we got better and better,” said sophomore midfielder Kennedy Mullins, who is a four-year starter.

The start of Saturday’s game was delayed an hour and 20 minutes because of a scheduling issue. Matthew Reeder coaches both the boys and girls teams for Saltillo, and the boys had their own playoff game at noon in Ridgeland. The girls were scheduled to play at 3:30 p.m. in Vicksburg.

The boys’ game went to an overtime shootout — Saltillo won — which threw off the tight timeline for the afternoon. The Lady Tigers arrived at Memorial Stadium just after 4 p.m., and the game finally began at 4:50 after they were given time to warm up.

Vicksburg coach Samantha Bailey said the Missy Gators arrived early to Memorial Stadium and didn’t get word that the game would be delayed until about 90 minutes before kickoff. Having to start and stop the pregame schedule, she said, hurt her team.

“We ate and we hung out for a little bit, and before we knew that Saltillo’s boys were going into overtime I let them come out and take some shots on goal to play around and let some of those nerves out,” Bailey said. “They had too much time to get ready, and get nervous, and get ready and get nervous again. By game time I think they had worked themselves up so much it was hard to calm back down.”

The delay wasn’t the only contributing factor to the Missy Gators’ defeat, of course. Saltillo generated constant pressure and scoring chances, while the Missy Gators’ offense struggled to connect on passes or finish the few opportunities they had.

Vicksburg did not put a shot on goal until Trinity McGloster took a 30-yard free kick in the 67th minute. It was caught by the keeper for an easy save.

Saltillo, meanwhile, took 28 shots. Vicksburg keeper Ava Pritchard stopped 14 of them, but had no chance on most of Saltillo’s goals.

In the seventh minute, Anna Crouch threaded a pass between two defenders and right onto the foot of O.J. Miller to create a one-on-one chance from inside of 25 yards. Miller buried it for a 1-0 lead.

A mishandled ball at the top of the box in the 65th minute led to a similar chance and goal for Miller. Two other times, Pritchard made saves only for the rebound to come back to a Saltillo player who knocked it into the net.

Miller finished with three goals, including two in the last 15 minutes of the game. Mia Claire Patterson and Gracie Jaggers also scored for the Lady Tigers.

“Our defense just broke down. We started bunching up and we weren’t where we needed to be. When your defense breaks down on a team like that, you can’t come back from it,” Bailey said. “Ava did an amazing job. The goals that they got were not goals that Ava could have stopped.”

Although the outcome had long been decided, the moments after the game were no less emotional for the Missy Gators. Nearly every member of the team broke down in tears, and the few who didn’t offered their shoulders for their teammates to cry on.

It was a tearful end to a season that both lasted a long time, yet was over too soon.

“We took a hard loss to them last year, except last year was our first playoff game. Going into the season last year, realistically we just wanted to make the playoffs. I think coming out today, we felt like we were a little more ready than we were,” Bailey said. “The good thing is that we did play them a whole game this year and we didn’t do that last year. It’s hard. We’re losing two (seniors), and that hurts too, knowing it’s their last game.”

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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