STARKVILLE — Asked to expound on his crucial first-half goal during Monday’s boys soccer match against Heritage Academy, Starkville Academy’s Isaac Lepard provided an apt analogy.
“It was awesome,” the junior said. “It was like some FIFA stuff.”
The way Lepard excellently slotted home a perfect cross from freshman Micah King in the 13th minute to double the Volunteers’ lead, the comparison wasn’t far off. Lepard’s slight tangle-up with Patriots goalkeeper Andre Sotomeneses right after his score was even reminiscent of a graphical glitch of sorts.
But the 3-0 win Starkville Academy delivered against its rival in Monday’s MAIS Class AAAA, Division II East opener was far from any video game. For the streaking Volunteers (6-0, 1-0 division), the win was plenty real.
“It felt great,” Lepard said. “It was just what we wanted.”
The Volunteers held Heritage Academy and star striker Todd Sharp at bay and posted their fourth straight shutout and their fifth in six matches this winter.
“We isolated him, kept him from creating the way he likes to create,” Starkville Academy coach John Morgan said of Sharp. “I think after that, we just kind of filled in and did the rest. When you play teams that have one of those big play-makers and creators, if you can shut that off, you can severely hamper what they can do. I thought we did a good job of that.”
While the Vols locked down on defense, they put up enough goals for a comfortable win. Lepard’s score came just two minutes after seventh grader Nathan Miller beat Sotomeneses to break a scoreless tie in the 11th minute.
“It’s amazing to have some seventh-graders who can get out there and just dominate,” Lepard said.
Senior Brody Pierce cashed in on one of several chances in the second half, picking himself up after tripping to power a shot past new keeper Jared Gruseck and into the net as Pierce fell on his back with the effort.
Still, Morgan acknowledged his team had plenty of chances to score a lot more than three goals Monday night.
“We had great matchups all over the field,” he said. “We just didn’t put the ball in the back of the net when we needed to.”
Heritage Academy (2-2, 0-1) struggled even more against the Vols’ stout defense. Patriots coach Tom Velek acknowledged his team never found a rhythm between its midfielders and its forwards.
“Combination play in your attacking third is what wins games,” Velek said. “We could never get it going, and it showed.”
While seventh grader Cole Shelton performed admirably in lieu of usual starting defenseman Jayden Glasgow, Velek said Glasgow’s loss was felt when the Vols moved the ball ably upfield. The chances Starkville Academy created were just too much for Sotomeneses, who spent the first half in goal, and Gruseck, who played the second.
“The two goals that were in the center of the field, you can’t leave that open,” Velek said. “That puts too much pressure on your keepers.”
Heritage Academy regrouped in the final minutes and challenged Vols goalkeeper Charlie Cox multiple times but to no avail as Starkville Academy finished off the shutout.
But despite the Vols’ win Monday, Velek said his team has plenty of motivation headed into the two teams’ next matchup Jan. 28 in Columbus.
“We play home and away,” he said. “Next time, it’s at our house.”
Velek knows well the difference that can make. Both he and Morgan coach their schools’ girls teams, and in the first matchup between the pair of rivals this fall, Starkville Academy won 3-0 on its home field. In the second game, the Vols just squeaked by with a 1-0 win.
So Morgan, too, knows all too well that Heritage Academy will come prepared in a few weeks.
“They’ll be ready for us the next time,” he said of the Patriots. “I know they will.”
Prep Girls Basketball
Pickens Academy (Ala.) 49, Heritage Christian Academy (Ala.) 21
HOOVER, Ala. — The Pickens Academy (Alabama) girls basketball team beat Heritage Christian Academy (Alabama) in Monday’s road game.
Lily Lowery had 19 points to lead the Pirates. Kate Wilkins had 10, and Britney Fitch had seven.
Louisville 50, Noxubee County 37, Saturday
Prep Boys Basketball
Pickens Academy (Ala.) 42, South Choctaw Academy 35, Saturday
TOXEY, Ala. — The Pickens Academy boys beat South Choctaw Academy 42-35 in Saturday’s road game.
Rafe Brown scored 13 points to lead the Pirates. Hayden Dyer had 11, William Parker had nine points, and Drake Lowery added eight.
Noxubee County 49, Louisville 47, Saturday
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.