STARKVILLE — Maybe this one will start a trend.
The quality of play on display Saturday in the Starkville High-Starkville Academy boys soccer match at the Starkville Sportsplex certainly deserves a second chance.
The fans and players are entitled to another meeting next season based solely on the result: a 2-2 tie that should help both teams prepare for the postseason.
“The kids played well and I was really pleased with how we did,” Starkville Academy coach Art Cosby said. “We knew this was the match we needed getting ready for the playoffs, and they need the same thing.”
Cosby believes Saturday”s match was the first time the programs have played soccer. He hopes the match will be the beginning of an annual series because players on both squads grow up playing with and against each other, so it is natural to continue the rivalry in high school.
“We”re two solid squads, and I am glad coach (Brian) Bennett would play us,” Cosby said.
Starkville Academy senior Frankie Jones used persistence to forge the final tie in the second half. Jones directed his initial shot at goalkeeper Addison Watson, who wasn”t able to corral the rebound. Jones followed his shot and kept the ball alive. It caromed into the air behind the goalkeeper and to his right, where Jones and Will Goodwin converged. Goodwin”s foot hit Jones, but Jones still managed to get his head on the ball and push it home for the equalizer.
“Frankie just about that darned ball in the goal,” Cosby said. “He wasn”t going to be denied. That”s the kind of effort I wanted to see from our guys. We”re going to have it down the stretch if we”re going to have a shot to do anything in the playoffs.”
While Starkville Academy has a little more time to prepare for the playoffs, Starkville (9-1-2) is gearing up for an opponent to be determined next week. A 1-0 victory against Tupelo on Tuesday gave the Yellow Jackets a huge lift.
Even without junior Alvaro Pichardo on Saturday, Starkville used solid possession and good use of the width to stretch the Volunteers and attack from the flanks. Sophomore Dylan Howard was dangerous on the left flank, while Kase Kingery, Price Day, Daniel Fumo, and Mike Klaskala added strong contributions.
The pressure increased after Day gave the Yellow Jackets a 1-0 lead in the first few minutes. After the official walked off 10 yards and pushed the wall of defenders back a few steps, Day uncorked a high, curving shot that slipped right over the fingertips of goalkeeper Herston Williamson.
Starkville made it 2-0 off a scrambled sequence in the box. The Volunteers couldn”t clear the ball and the Yellow Jackets couldn”t put a foot to the ball until Parker Hoyt passed the ball from the right to the middle, where Taylor Wise collected it and slipped it home.
Starkville Academy cut the lead in half with a little more than 10 minutes to play in the first half. Jake Read”s free kick from about 45 yards soared into the box, where Goodwin used his height and used his head to flick the ball into the upper right corner.
“Wasn”t that gorgeous?” Cosby said. “There were a lot of good plays. That was pretty, and their first free kick they snuck in over the goal was picture perfect.”
In the second half, Williamson made three saves in the first 20 minutes to keep the Volunteers within one goal. He made a diving save to his left on a bid by Klaskala and he touched an attempt by Howard from 20-plus yards out off the crossbar and out of trouble.
“My hat is off to Herston,” Cosby said of the senior. “He is a first-year goalie playing like a seasoned goalie. He kept us in the game today.”
Said Starkville High coach Brian Bennett, “He did a good job. He made a lot of saves.”
Watson also made a kick save on a run by Jones, who snuck in behind the defense.
Bennett was pleased his team controlled large stretches of the match. The only problem was an inability to finish a host of quality scoring chances, especially in the second half. Still, he said it is a good sign the Yellow Jackets generated so many opportunities against a big, physical opponent.
“I think it will help us a lot,” Bennett said. “We were working on getting the ball wide and spreading these teams out. We did good, especially on Dylan”s side. We just weren”t able to finish. I think we might have been a little hesitant because of their size and speed.”
The match was part of a doubleheader for the Volunteers (8-0), who defeated Clarksdale-Lee 12-0 earlier Saturday. Cosby said he was able to rest his starters in the first match and work in plenty of younger players so everyone would have their legs for the second game, which was considered a scrimmage.
That didn”t stop both teams from playing an entertaining match on a soft, divot-filled field not suited for the attractiveness of play of both teams.
“I am very proud of our guys,” Cosby said. “Either team could have won this one. They had some opportunities they should have made, and we had some opportunities we should have made. Our guys got after it, and we had to.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.