GULFPORT - Kierstin Bradley scored two goals to lead Southern Miss past Nicholls State 3-1 in a women's Division I soccer friendly on Saturday at the Gulfport Sportsplex.
The two teams played to a 2-2 tie on Aug. 28 in the regular season.
For Southern Miss coach Mohammed El-Zare, the game was a chance to visit the Coast and showcase the Eagles soccer team. After the game, the coaches held a soccer clinic for youth players.
"Anytime we can come to the Coast and play in front young players in our community is good," said El-Zare.
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"I like being back," said former Ocean Springs standout Ashton Stennis. "I love having people I know watch me play. It makes me play better."
Southern Miss dominated the first half, frequently pushing the ball into the Colonels' zone. An active defense led by Stennis, Long Beach's Breann Hedin, and Adriana Garcia kept Nicholls State at bay, turning back the Colonels attacks.
"For the most part, it was the best game we've played all year," Stennis said. "We played together as a team. We were ready to play today."
However, the Eagles lead only 1-0 at halftime on Bradley's first goal of the game.
Nicholls State came out in the second half with an aggressive attack, pushing hard against the Eagles' defense.
"We used halftime to get a little better organized," said Colonels coach Dylan Harrison.
The Colonels aggressiveness paid off when Australian Jess Coates beat former Biloxi keeper Brittany Snyder from about 20 yards out around 15 minutes into the second half to tie the game at a goal each.
El-Zare noted his team was young, playing seven freshman in the Fall. The friendly, he noted, showed how those players have grown up.
The Eagles again pressured the Colonels defense, getting a corner kick around 25 minute mark. Instead of kicking the ball in front of the Nicholls goal, Stephanie Garcia passed back to Beth Coleman standing just inside the midfield mark on the left side.
"When I saw (Coleman) make her kick, I started my run to the goal," Bradley said, adding that she completed the goal with a header.
On her first goal, coming off a steal deep in the Colonels end of the field about 20 minutes into the game, Bradley said she noticed the Colonels defender "was having problems controlling the ball. I was able to get to the right spot to get the ball."
Becky McMullan scored the Eagles third goal from about 30 yards out with a shot from the right side of the field that hit the opposite end of the goal.
"We showed a lot of maturity and composure today," said El-Zare. "I was really proud the way we responded after they scored. We stayed in the game and focused on what we could control. We got the results we wanted."
Bradley felt the game reflected the growth of the Eagles over the past year.
"We have 23 players returning from last year," Bradley said. "We are starting to learn each other's style of play. We want to get better this year."
Kevin Mattina, who helped organize the game and clinic, said the purpose was to help publicize the soccer on the Gulf Coast. This fall, he said organizers plan to present the game between the Southern Miss and Mississippi State women's team, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 19.
In addition to bringing women's college soccer to the Coast, Mattina said organizers were starting an elite-amateur adult man's team in Biloxi. He said tryouts for the team are set for April 23 at the Gulfport Sportsplex. Anyone interested in trying out for the team should check out www.biloxicityfootballclub.com.