Early goals in each half enabled Gulfport to win an MHSAA state championship in boys soccer for the second time with a 2-1 victory over Madison Central Saturday evening.
“It’s unbelievable to knock off a team like Madison Central that has so many state championships,” Gulfport coach Henrick Madsen said.
The win was made all the more impressive considering Madison Central had the home field advantage. Its campus is located less than three miles from Ridgeland High School — the site of Saturday night’s game. Gulfport had to travel 173 miles.
The Admirals went up 1-0 three minutes into the game when Miguel Hernandez dribbled past two defenders and scored from 10 yards out.
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“It was my first touch of the game and I didn’t really know what to do with it,” he said. “I usually beat the first defender. When I beat the first defender, the second defender was right in front of me. When I beat the second defender, my eye was on the goal.”
That was the first goal allowed by either team in the playoffs.
Madison Central tied it with 5 minutes remaining in the first half when Kyle Watson scored from in close off a corner kick, ending the Admirals’ shutout streak of seven games.
The game winner came 3 minutes into the second half. Christopher Bruni put a free kick from 40 yards out in front of the goal and Lucas Ragula headed it past Madison Central goalie Peyton Wilbanks.
“The past couple of weeks we have been working on set plays in practice, getting the ball into the box,” Bruni said “I just did my job.”
So did Ragula. “All I could do was jump as high as I could and try to get my head on it,” he said. It was the first time this season he headed in a goal. “Not in the goal, but I have won a lot of headers.”
The victory could be considered an upset since Madison Central was top ranked in the state according to the website MaxPreps and Gufport was No. 3. Madison Central, a four-time state champion, entered the game with a 17-2-1 record compared to 17-4-3 for Gulfport.
But the Admirals did win a previous matchup, 2-0 last month at the I-10/I-20 Classic.
“It definitely gave the boys a belief,” Madsen said. “But it’s always worrisome for a coach when you beat a team early in the season. Then you have to play them again and you have the revenge factor.”
Guflport won despite Madison Central having a 13-8 edge on shots and a 10-0 edge on corner kicks. Gulfport goalie Gannon Key made four saves, the biggest coming on a header from close in in the final minutes.
The Admirals finished the season with an 11-game winning streak, during which they allowed only two goals. The streak began with the earlier win over Madison Central.
The loss kept Madison Central coach Cecil Hinds from a ninth state championship. He has four with the Madison Central boys and three with the girls. His first championship in 2010 was also Gulfport’s first when he was the Admirals’ coach. The loss prevented him from tying Dwayne Dennim for the most MHSAA titles. Dennim won his ninth earlier in the day when Madison St. Joseph defeated Sacred Heart 4-2 for the boys 1A-2A-3A title,