The Bay High Tigers must be good listeners.
After their first-round playoff victory Tuesday, coach Kelly Ross told his Tigers if they wanted a shot at redemption against St. Stanislaus, they’d have to take care of business Friday against Northeast Jones.
Message heard loud and clear.
It took a while to get going, but Bay caught fire late to cruise to a 5-1 second-round victory. The Rockachaws guaranteed Tuesday’s all-Bay St. Louis Class 4A South State matchup by cruising past West Lauderdale on Saturday.
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“They realize the importance of showing up every night, preparing and being ready to play,” Ross said. “It doesn’t matter who is on the other side of the field. You prepare. You try to play your game no matter who you’re playing and play as hard as you can play.”
Bay and Northeast Jones both narrowly missed chances in the early going of the first half, trading scoring chances with one another.
Pearl River Community College signee Bo Bowman broke the shutout in the 34th minute. Bowman and Jonovan Cucurullo sprinted across midfield with a lone defender in front of them. Cucurullo threaded a pass through the defender and Bowman blasted a shot near side past the sprawling keeper.
“When the defender spread out wide, I started screaming (Cucurullo’s) name, clapping, everything I could to get his attention,” Bowman said. “He passed it right there in the middle, I took the shot and it just went in.”
The lead was short-lived as Northeast Jones’ Malachi Harrison evened the score three minutes later on a penalty kick.
Recent William Carey signee Ethan Loftin broke the tie five minutes into the second half with his first of two goals and Cucurullo added to the Tigers’ advantage 10 minutes later.
Bay (13-6-2) put a low shot on goal from well outside the box. The Northeast Jones keeper made the initial save but coughed up a big rebound, allowing Loftin to swoop in and hammer the ball into the yawning goal.
The home Tigers quickly distanced themselves from the visiting Tigers (13-10-2), netting goals in the 55th minute and four minutes later to go ahead 4-1.
“They challenged each other to really step up and take control and do what we know we can do,” Ross said. “I said the only way we lose this game is if we get out-worked in the second half – and I think we out-worked them.”
In the 55th minute, Bay put a well-placed corner across the goal. Cucurullo fought through a crowd to head the ball into the goal. Bowman netted his second goal of the game shortly after, knocking home a rebound from inside the box. Loftin extended Bay’s lead to 5-1in the 67th minute on a penalty kick.
“We pressured their back four so much that eventually something had to give,” Ross said.
West Lauderdale girls 7, Bay 0: The visiting West Lauderdale Knights (21-0) entered Friday’s second- round matchup having outscored their opponents 128-4.
They set the tone early, scoring three goals in the first 15 minutes. They didn’t let up in the second half, keeping their starters in the game and adding four more goals.
Although the final score was lopsided, Bay freshman keeper Danae Fowler kept the Lady Tigers (9-10-2) within striking distance for much of the game.
Bay’s highlight was Fowler’s penalty-kick save in the 38th minute. The freshman sized up the kicker and dove to her left, extending her arms just enough to knock the shot wide.
“To be a freshman, she has a really bright future,” first-year coach Colby Adam said. “Danae is one of the most athletic girls I’ve been around.”
Anna Claire Nance led the defending Class 4A champs with a hat trick.
West Lauderdale advanced to South State and will play the winner of Saturday’s Pass Christian-Northeast Jones matchup.