Both the boys and girls of Ocean Springs advanced Tuesday to the Class 6A championship match with the boys beating George County 3-1 in overtime and the girls besting Brandon 1-0.
Both teams will meet Northwest Rankin at Clinton on Saturday. The girls (16-6-4) will play at 4 p.m. The boys (20-3-2) are scheduled to kickoff at 6 p.m. Both teams met Dec. 3, with Northwest Rankin winning the boys game 1-0 on a late goal. Northwest Rankin beat the OSHS girls 3-0.
Ocean Springs boys coach Jeff French and girls coach Ryan Joiner both said they looked forward to playing the Cougars for the Class 6A state titles. Joiner, who came from St. Stanislaus at the start of the year, is going for his fourth consecutive state title. The boys team is returning after losing to Clinton in the Class 6A finals last year.
“The two best teams in the state are playing for the state title,” French said. “We have to come out and play, but I like our chances.”
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Joiner noted the Lady Cougars and Greyhounds met while his team was still learning his style and going through a tough start, winning only four of their first 10 games. Over the last 10 games, the Greyhounds are 8-1-1 with eight shutouts.
“We came together after the Oak Grove game,” Joiner said, noting the Lady Greyhounds were a different team from the one that played in early December. “We realized that we were not training hard enough, that we were not executing enough. We are playing a lot better and working hard.”
Camille Blankenship, who played the last time the Lady Greyhounds made the state finals in 2015, said the chance to return to the playoffs was special. And, she said, Ocean Springs would be looking for some revenge after losing by three goals to the Lady Cougars early in the season.
Ocean Springs-George County
Against the George County boys, Ocean Springs used a pair of overtime goals – the first overtime in high school soccer is not sudden death – to slip past the Rebels. A defensive mistake by the Rebels (12-6-3) allowed the first of the two goals in on an own goal halfway through the first overtime period. Then, in stoppage time in the first overtime period, Garret Dean found Kealan Baggett, who scored from 20 yards out to give Ocean Springs a two-goal lead.
Ocean Springs took the early lead off a rebound shot from Caleb Burke. Burke took a shot about 15 yards out, but Rebel goal keeper Johnny Lorenzo knocked the ball away. The Rebel defense, though, did not clear the rebound allowing Mike Jimenez to punch the rebound past Lorenzo 12 minutes into the game to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead.
The score remained that way until stoppage time in the second half when a Greyhounds defensive mistake set up Josh Cochran about 15 yards from the Greyhounds goal. Cochran, whose wide-open shot with just under 10 minutes to play was saved by Moses Ohler, didn’t miss his second chance and kicked the ball in with about a minute left in regulation to knot the game at 1-1.
“Sometimes they are ugly wins, but a win is a win is a win,” French said after the game, acknowledging a sloppy defensive game by the Greyhounds. “In overtime we stepped up and played the way we are capable of playing. And we finally got some continuity on offense.”
French said the own goal by the Rebels was earned by the Greyhounds pressing the George County goal.
“We put ourselves in position for that goal, much like George County did on the goal to tie the game,” he said. “When you put a good delivery pass into the box, good things happen.”
GCHS coach Tyler Williams said the loss was tough. However, he said the Rebels, making their first appearance in the South State Finals, had a great run.
“We knew coming in that we were the underdogs,” he said. “If Ocean Springs was going to the state championship game, we wanted them to work for it. We played our best game against them and made the run for the win.”
Williams said the Rebels’ run showed what they can do.
“We have strong junior group coming up,” he said. “It gives us a sense of pride. Now we know our potential.”
For the girls, goal keeper Autumn Fike kept Brandon off the scoreboard, recording four saves, including a superb save with nine minutes left in the game.
“I got it by my fingertips,” Fike said. “The defense played very well and (Brandon) didn’t get a lot of shots off.”
Twin sisters Marina and Camille Blankenship gave Ocean Springs its only goal, with Marina hitting Camille on a pass with nine minutes left in the first half. Camille took the shot from about 20 yards out. Camille kicked it hard right, with the wind bringing it back to the left.
“It was a beautiful pass,” Camille Blankenship said. “It wasn’t my best shot (in my career), but it gave me the best feeling of any shot afterward.”