Lady Vikes miss chance to clinch region title, but still have another

Published 1:12 am Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Even after the Warren Central Lady Vikes let a two-goal lead slip away, it seemed only a matter of time before they pulled themselves together and broke the game open.

They waited and waited, but the moment never came. Now they’ll have to wait a little longer to celebrate a region championship.

Shirley Rivera scored two goals, including the go-ahead goal on a free kick in overtime, and Ridgeland beat Warren Central 4-2 on Tuesday to deny the Lady Vikes the MHSAA Region 2-6A girls’ soccer championship.

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Warren Central (13-5, 6-1 Region 2-6A) can still clinch the title by winning its regular-season finale Thursday at Columbus (3-13-1, 0-7). If Warren Central loses, it would be tied with Ridgeland (10-6-2, 6-2) and the Lady Titans would win the goal differential tiebreaker.

With another chance at the program’s first region title since 2019 still available, WC coach Jeremy Lawrence didn’t seem too distressed about letting this opportunity slip through their fingers.

“That’s just one loss in district. We were really wanting to win that one just because it solidifies it today, Big picture, it’s not a big deal,” Lawrence said.

Warren Central dominated most of Tuesday’s game, but couldn’t capitalize on its numerous opportunities while Ridgeland made the most of its limited scoring chances.

Allie Mason and Rachel Opperman scored in the first half to put the Lady Vikes ahead 2-0 at halftime. Ridgeland tied it with two quick goals in the second half — one by Alana Bratton that bounced off the hands of keeper Hayleigh Simmons, and another by Rivera from the top of the box that bounced past Simmons and into the net in the 52nd minute.

“They just capitalized on some mistakes,” Lawrence said. “We tell the girls all the time don’t let them shoot outside the 18, always have somebody in front of it. That first goal happened because of that and the second was keeper error. They had a keeper error in the first half. That’s part of the game.”

Simmons regrouped to make several saves during the remainder of regulation, and finished with 14 in the game. Unfortunately, her Ridgeland counterpart Kamiyah Fultz was also a wall against constant pressure.

The Lady Vikes could not capitalize on nearly a dozen outstanding scoring chances and the game went to overtime tied 2-2.

“Most of our games in the district have been close and it’s not because we’re lacking chances. We’re lacking finishing,” Lawrence said. “It looks great in practice, it looks great when we’re warming up, and then once we get in the game we just can’t put it in.”

Neither team scored in the first of the two 10-minute overtime periods, but another small mistake helped Ridgeland break the deadlock in the second.

The Lady Vikes were called for a handball just outside the box, leading to a free kick. Rivera popped a perfect shot over the top of the defensive wall, and it arced into the net to give the Lady Titans a 3-2 lead in the 92nd minute.

Then, in the final minute of the game, the Lady Vikes were unable to clear a ball from in front of the goal and Layla Sanchez punched it in to make it 4-2 and seal the victory.

“They were playing well. They were in good spirits. There wasn’t some weird downturn where Ridgeland was playing better than us,” Lawrence said. “Little mistakes happen and it slipped away from us.”

Now the Lady Vikes will need to regroup in time to take care of business against Columbus. They won 7-0 in their first meeting in December, which has Lawrence confident they can still clinch a rare region championship. Warren Central’s girls’ team has only won one in the last 20 years.

The rewards for doing so, Lawrence said, will go well beyond just winning a trophy. They’ll include a favorable path through the Class 6A North playoff bracket.

“Any time you win a district that puts you in a good position to go far,” Lawrence said. “If we’re lucky to get to North State we’ll be able to host every game up to North State. That’s an awesome position for us. I know they’re pumped, I’m pumped, and we just have to get over this little hump.”

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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