Junior Colleges

Pearl River upsets No. 19 Gulf Coast to win MACJC/Region 23 soccer championship

The Pearl River men’s soccer team celebrates on the field at Freedom Ridge Park in Ridgeland Sunday after the Wildcats defeated Mississippi Gulf Coast in the championship game of the MACJC/Region 23 State Tournament.
The Pearl River men’s soccer team celebrates on the field at Freedom Ridge Park in Ridgeland Sunday after the Wildcats defeated Mississippi Gulf Coast in the championship game of the MACJC/Region 23 State Tournament. PRCC

RIDGELAND –Kobe Lie hasn’t saved every penalty kick he’s faced in goal for Pearl River Community College this season, but he’s saved enough of them that he felt confident going into an overtime shootout against Mississippi Gulf Coast Sunday afternoon.

With the game and a state championship in the balance, the redshirt freshman goalkeeper from Hattiesburg was the best man on the field, stopping the first two shots he faced, and his teammates were perfect on all four of their attempts.

By winning the shootout 4-1, following a scoreless tie in 110 minutes of play, the Wildcats defeated the 19th-ranked Bulldogs to capture the MACJC/Region 23 State Tournament men’s soccer championship at Freedom Ridge Park.

“Ever I started coaching junior college, as an assistant coach 12 years ago, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do was win a state championship,” said PRCC coach Drew Gallant. “These guys were phenomenal.”

PRCC (11-6) will face Laredo (Texas) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinals of the NJCAA South Region Tournament at Tyler, Texas. Gulf Coast (13-3) also qualified for the regional, but the Bulldogs will have to face fourth-ranked host Tyler in the other semifinal.

In the end, it was Lie who got it done for the Wildcats in the postseason. In three MACJC Tournament games, he didn’t allow a goal and had 26 saves.

“”You’ve got to have confidence,” said Lie. “If you don’t have confidence, you might get a bit shaky, and you might let the ball play you. If you’re confident, you can come up and go at the ball.”

Lie set the tone right at the start of the shootout against Max Johnson of Gulf Coast, after freshman Jevaun Ennis (Maypen, Jamaica) easily made the Wildcats’ first try. Johnson tried to go low and to his left, and Lie had it read all the way.

“I knew exactly where he was going with that one,” Lie said. “The second one was a bit trickier, but I got a good look at it and punched it out.”

After that, all that was left was for the Wildcats to make their shots, and they did. The Bulldogs got their third try past Lie, from Windham Whatley, but they never got another chance.

Freshman Bo Bowman (Bay St. Louis) followed Ennis with a successful kick, sophomore Bradford Clark (Long Beach) was good on his, and redshirt sophomore Kyle Estess (Laurel) sent his team into a celebratory frenzy with his make.

“I had a lot of pressure on me, but I knew that we had Kobe Lie back there and he’d already saved two of three,” said Estess. “So that took a lot of pressure off.”

The Wildcats almost didn’t get it to overtime. Gulf Coast had an early goal waved off for being offside, and in the 78th minute, Jordan Hall, the nation’s leading scorer with 28 goals, sent a shot on a bicycle kick from the right side that Lie knocked down right at the goal line, then momentarily lost.

The Bulldogs celebrated as if they had scored, but the referee ruled that the ball did not cross the line.

“He hit it clean, and he hit it hard,” said Lie. “I just tried to get my hands on it to knock it down, then I just needed to find where it was.”

As sensational as Lie was, though, he was helped by a rock-solid defensive back line that kept numerous Bulldog plays from developing into threats.

“The defensive play was wonderful today,” said sophomore Spencer Martin (Spring, Texas). “Mississippi Gulf Coast is good team, with a lot of offensive weapons, so we knew we had to come out and play hard, and we did it as a team.”

The Wildcats had some chances of their own, especially a second-half breakaway and a hard shot by Bowman that Bulldog keeper Owen Betz dove to make a fingertip save.

In all, Gulf Coast had 21 shots, 11 on goal, to 15 for Pearl River, six on goal.

“We had our chances to win and didn’t finish in the final third,” Gulf Coast coach Chris Handy said. “They did well early on to stop our initial press. From there, it’s just a battle of wills. In the end, you’ve got to decide it some way.”

Overall, this was PRCC’s sixth state championship in men’s soccer and the fifth in six seasons.

“It felt good,” said Estess, who was on the field two years ago when the Wildcats won the fourth of four consecutive state titles.

“I knew at the beginning of the year that we had something good going. And as we got halfway through the season, I knew we had a shot. We just had that one opponent that we had to beat, Gulf Coast, and today we did it.”