High School Sports

Eight Coast teams reach South State Soccer Finals

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD 
 St. Stanislaus's Andrew Elkins turns on Clinton defender Cory Furlow . The Rockachaws host Bay High in the 4A South State finals on Monday.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD St. Stanislaus's Andrew Elkins turns on Clinton defender Cory Furlow . The Rockachaws host Bay High in the 4A South State finals on Monday. SUN HERALD

And then there were eight.

Due to weather concerns once again, the South State series will begin Monday, with five of the remaining Coast representatives taking the pitch.

Ocean Springs' girls and boys will travel to Brandon for a 5:30 p.m. start with a return trip to the Class 6A championships on the line for both squads.

West Harrison's girls will host defending Class 5A champion West Jones at 6 p.m.

Bay High will also travel to familiar foe St. Stanislaus in a rematch of the last two boys Class 4A South State championship games. The Tigers and Rockachaws will kickoff at 6:30 p.m.

Later in the week, Class 1A/2A/3A's St. Patrick will travel to Petal High on Wednesday to play Sacred Heart at 6 p.m. Gautier visits Stone at 6 p.m. Thursday in a Class 5A boys clash to round out the South State championships.

OS girls

Ocean Springs, the defending Class 6A South State champions, will undoubtedly be the underdogs Monday as they visit undefeated Brandon. The Lady Bulldogs are ranked first in the state and even first in the nation depending on the poll. It's an unfamiliar role to be playing the underdogs, but Patrick Hayes said his team is ready for the challenge.

"I know they're very good. They deserve to be ranked No. 1 in the state. They're very athletic and well coached. There's not many weaknesses with their team," Hayes said. "They have a good backline, good midfield and they can create in the attacking third.

"We're going to have to play our best game of the year -- and I think we can."

Even with just five starters returning from last year's South State squad, Hayes believes his team matches up well against Brandon.

"We're fast. We play physical. We played a really tough schedule on purpose to prepare us for a team like Brandon," Hayes said. "I knew coming into the season that there was a really strong chance that we would be facing them. I've pretty much prepared this team for this game all season long.

"It's going to be a tall order but I think we can upset them."

Hayes said his message to the Lady Greyhounds is the pressure Monday will all be on Brandon.

"They're undefeated and ranked No. 1," he said. "We have nothing to lose and all to gain."

Fighting Irish

The 2014 Class 1A/2A/3A champion Fighting Irish will have their work cut out for them Wednesday. Outside of losing to Class 6A power Brandon to open the season, the Crusaders (19-1-1) have rolled through their schedule to date -- that includes a 3-2 victory over St. Patrick in early December.

If the Fighting Irish are to prevail agains the reigning South State champs, coach Mario Camps said his squad must remain disciplined.

"When you get at a high level you can't make mistakes," he said. "The team that makes the first mistake is going to cost them."

Coming off of a hard-fought 4-2 win over St. Andrew's, Camps said his midfielders have done a good job of feeding the ball to talented strikers Tyler Musial and Eiland Stebley. In turn, the duo have racked up the goals.

"They have excellent ball control and shot," Camps said. "They just need to get the ball. Whether it comes on the ground or in the air they can score it."

You again?

It's becoming a Coast tradition that Bay High and St. Stanislaus meet in the Class 4A South State championship. For the third consecutive season the two sides will meet with a trip to Madison on the line.

Dating back to the 2010-2011 season, neither school has been able to gain much of an advantage over the other with the series tied 7-7. Five of the games have gone to overtime, with 11 being decided by just one goal.

This year, St. Stanislaus, the two-time reigning Class 4A champions, won 2-1 in overtime and held on for a 3-2 victory. In 2014, Bay won the first two games 2-1 and 3-2 only to lose to the Rockachaws in South State, so Ryan Joiner knows his team can't head into Monday's match overly confident.

"I tell my guys playing a team three times and beating them three times in one season is probably the most difficult thing they'll see all year," he said. "It's going to be a close game. It's going to come down to whoever scores first and can eliminate mistakes on the backend."

For both Bay High and St. Stanislaus, whose campuses are just down the road from one another, whichever team does the best job of keeping its emotions in check will likely advance.

"We expected to see Bay and I think they'd say the same about us. The guys are all familiar with each other. We know they're dangerous going forward. The familiarity makes the rivalry fun," Joiner said. "If we go out and play emotionally, we don't do well. If we can find that balance, we should do well.

"Too much emotion and the game can slip away."

Added Bay High coach Kelly Ross: "We've been working and training for about 10 months hoping we would have the opportunity to play in the South State championship for a third year in a row. I know we will give it our best shot and hopefully we can play our best at the right moment this year."

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