South Mississippi soccer well represented in title tilts

Bay High finally got the monkey off its back Tuesday. The Tigers scored late on an acrobatic header to eliminate St. Stanislaus and for the first time in four Class 4A South State Championships.

It was a joyous finish for Bay, which eliminated the three-time defending champion Rockachaws. But the excitement was somewhat short lived as the Tigers must now turn their attention to Florence in the 4A Championship on Saturday. Bay is one of five Coast teams in Saturday’s championship round.

The Tigers and Florence will play at Madison Central at 2 p.m., with West Harrison’s girls facing Oxford at 4 p.m. at MCHS.

Defending 1A/2A/3A state champion St. Patrick will play Forest at 2 p.m. at Clinton High School. Ocean Springs’ girls and boys teams will also play at Clinton against Northwest Rankin at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., respectively.

Triumphant Tigers

Bay’s 2-1 win Tuesday was a major shot in the arm for a program that, not only seemed snake-bitten against SSC, but always played the Rockachaws to one-goal decisions. Now, the Tigers have a chance to win their first state championship since 2012.

“I was just really happy for my seniors,” Bay coach Kelly Ross said. “We’ve talked about the game — our seniors like Bo (Bowman), Ethan (Loftin) and some of the other guys who have been starters in that game, really deserved to break through in one of them.

“To have four years of playing in South State versus the same team and not win it once would have been tough. That was their motivation. We have to get one.”

Even as the Tigers were gathered for a post-win team photo, Ross was reminding the players, “one more game, boys.”

Everyone knows about Loftin and Bo Bowman, but the later’s younger brother, John Bowman, along with Jonovan Cucurullo have played crucial roles in Bay’s run to State.

Cucurullo scored both of the Tigers’ goals in South State and has been active in Bay’s attack. Throughout the season, he has sort of been a Swiss Army Knife for the Tigers. He started the year as a center back but moved up to the midfield during the season.

“People are going to say, take care of Ethan, take care of Bo and you’ll beat Bay High. But recently it’s been other guys contributing like Chris Rico and Jono. scoring goals,” Ross said. “We’re not a one-dimensional or two-dimensional thing. The guys are unselfish and put each other in position to score goals.”

As for Bay’s wall in goal, John Bowman, has been more than just a reliable safety net.

“He was very, very aggressive (against SSC),” Ross said. “He knew if the ball got to the heads of the players on Stanislaus or dropped to their feet, they’d be dangerous. He can get higher than everyone else — except for (SSC’s) Corbin Blanchard; he’s a freak.”

Florence is a somewhat familiar opponent to Bay. The Tigers played the Eagles during summer scrimmages and came away with a 3-1 classic win.

With that in mind, Ross has two messages for his Tigers.

One: Be confident but not cocky on Saturday.

And two: “Just go play soccer and have fun,” Ross said. “Work hard and the results take care of themselves.”

Hurricane warning

WHHS girls coach Todd Moniz said his team’s 3-0 win over South Jones in the 5A South State Championship on Tuesday was much closer than the final result might suggest.

“We had to defend a whole lot in that game,” he said Thursday. “They had a game plan that took us out of ours. In the second half we had to do much more counter-attacking.”

Moniz credited his team’s versatility for making their playoff push, eliminating Hattiesburg and West Jones in the first two rounds.

“Having that flexibility is important when you’re going up against a team with a game plan to take you out of yours,” Moniz said. “It has been nice to have a bunch of girls with high soccer IQs.”

An X-factor for WHHS lately has been eighth-grader Marley Sims. Called up after the middle school season finished, Sims has already scored seven goals in just five games.

“She’s fast and strong,” Moniz said. “She’s not the tallest girl out there, but she’s fast and strong. She just has this composure about her and knows what to do with the ball.”

Saturday will feature a rematch of last year’s 5A girls title game as WHHS and Oxford will clash. Moniz expects a similar outcome to last year’s 2-1 decision, with one obvious difference.

Unfortunately for West Harrison, Oxford boasts Mississippi’s second leading goal scorer in Morgan O’Connor. Only a freshman, she netted 44 goals this year. The Lady Chargers are deeper than just O’Connor, however.

“They have good players at all positions,” Moniz said. “It’s going to take a big team effort from us. I think if we play our best we can do it.”

The key for WHHS on Saturday, Moniz said, will be to clean up some issues they had a year ago.

“We felt we were the better team in the first half and unfortunately they were in the second half,” he said. “We just need to stick to the plan and make sure we go forward the right way.”

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

State championship schedule

Madison Central High

4A Girls: Richland v. West Lauderdale, noon

4A Boys: Bay v. Florence, 2 p.m.

5A Girls: West Harrison v. Oxford, 4 p.m.

5A Boys: Oxford v. West Jones, 6 p.m.

Clinton High

1A/2A/3A Girls: Sacred Heart v. South Pontotoc, noon

1A/2A/3A Boys: St. Patrick v. Forest, 2 p.m.

6A Girls: Ocean Springs v. Northwest Rankin, 4 p.m.

6A Boys: Ocean Springs v. Northwest Rankin, 6 p.m.