High School Sports

Pascagoula stays alive in soccer playoff hunt with win

Hayden Hamm
Hayden Hamm

PASCAGOULA -- Pascagoula kept its soccer playoff hopes alive beating West Harrison 3-2 (4-2) on penalty kicks Tuesday night.

The Panthers (9-3-2) improve to 2-3 in Region 5A-8 with a Jan. 22 meeting with region front runner Gautier. Pascagoula coach Willie Denton said a win against Gautier and a West Harrison loss to either Gautier or Long Beach means the Panthers are in the playoffs.

"We have to root for Gautier, even though they are our rivals," said Pascagoula striker Hayden Hamm, who scored both of the Panthers' regulation goals.

West Harrison (9-5-1, 1-3), on the other hand, must beat both Long Beach and Gautier next week to have a chance at post-season play.

"We have to win out and then have some help," said Hurricanes coach Ryan Walton.

After ending regulation and two 10-minute overtimes in a 2-2 tie Tuesday, Pascagoula and West Harrison went to penalty kicks to decide the match. The first three Pascagoula kickers found the back of the net off Hurricanes keeper Jackson Knowles. Panthers keeper Adam Panni, though, managed to block two of the first four Hurricane kickers.

Pascagoula sent their fifth kicker, Cale Garlich, to the line. Garlich beat Knowles to give the Panthers the penalty kick win.

Panni, a sophomore, said it was only the second time he has been in goal during penalty kicks. The first time, he said, did not go well.

"The coaches told me to set up and cut down the angles," said Panni, whose two saves in the penalty kick phase possibly saved the post-season for Pascagoula.

The Panthers managed to stay in the playoff hunt despite giving up a 2-0 lead.

Hamm's second goal, a put-back off a Knowles save on a point-blank Pascagoula shot, put the Panthers up 2-0 with 19 minutes left in the first half.

"We went flat when we went up 2-0," Deaton said. "We opened the door for them and they took advantage of it."

"We settled down and tried to play passively," Hamm said, adding that Pascagoula attempted to drop back on defense and counterattack the West Harrison attack. "We lost our aggressiveness."

Pascagoula's settling back on defense almost cost the Panthers.

"West Harrison is very good off the counter attack," Denton said. "They proved that tonight."

Leading the counter attack for the Hurricanes was Tylor Davis. With nine minutes left in the first half, Davis dribbled through the Panthers defense before passing across the goal to Jesus Nunez, who found himself just outside the Pascagoula goal before pounding the ball past Panni to half the Panthers' lead to 2-1.

Davis was back on the attack in the second half, leading several charges against the Panther goal only to be turned away by the Pascagoula defense and Panni, who had six saves in the game. However, with eight-and-a-half minutes left in regulation, Davis found Jonathan Page on the right top corner of the box.

Page fired a shot at the Pascagoula goal. At first, it appeared that Panni had the save to preserve the Panthers lead, but the ball got away from the Pascagoula goalie and trickled over the goal line to even the game at two goals apiece.

"We came back," Walton said. "We dug ourselves a hole and we found our way out of it."

Behind a long pass from Griffin Sublett to Hamm, who outhustled the West Harrison defense to the goal and beat Knowles on a one-on-one attempt, Pascagoula scored in the opening minute of the match to take the early 1-0 lead.

West Harrison girls 2, Pascagoula 0: Pascagoula decided to play defense against West Harrison, frustrating the Hurricanes scorers and resulting in a slim 2-0 win.

With two games left and a perfect region record after four matches, West Harrison (12-2-2) is in control of its playoff destiny. Pascagoula, though, is out of the playoffs.

"We need to take care of business next week," said Hurricanes coach Todd Moniz, who added games against Long Beach and Gautier still give the Hurricanes a chance to stumble late and put their playoff push in doubt. "We are not taking anything for granted."

West Harrison dominated the game, playing nearly the entire game in the Panthers end of the pitch. In the first half, Pascagoula (3-9-2) made a couple of offensive flanking attacks into the West Harrison side of the pitch, but couldn't manage a good attack on the Hurricanes goal.

In the second half, the Panthers made a more concentrated effort to get to the Hurricanes goal with a number of sustained offensive possessions in front of the Hurricanes goal, but could manage only one legitimate scoring strike, a penalty kick that crossed the West Harrison goal by Morgan Blalock, but the header that would have finished the opportunity with a shot on goal missed the ball.

The Hurricanes, on the other hand, had a number of chances on the Pascagoula goal, but often missed scoring shots high over the net or to the flanks of the net.

"We didn't finish the attack well," said Moniz, who said the Panthers tactic of playing a close, tight defense in the game frustrated his shooters. "We feel we should have shot the ball better and had more goals in the game."

Summer Hansen scored the Hurricane's first goal with 16 minutes left in the first half. Haley Kim sealed the Hurricanes win at the 27-minute mark of the second half. Gabby Vincent assisted both West Harrison goals.

Pascagoula coach Neil Scott said this year has been a difficult year after a strong Panthers senior class graduated last year.

"We've had a disappointing season," Scott said, "but the experience we are getting should make us better next year."