By Bruce Thornton
(228Sports contributing writer)
Powerhouse matchups and backyard brawls represent matchups across the coast. On Tuesday night, South State Titles are on the line as 13 of the remaining 16 teams reside in the Southern Six. The southern six counties are guaranteed to claim South State title in 6A, 4A, and Class I on the girl’s side while the boys will send local teams to the State Finals in Class 5A and 4A.
In 6A girls, heavyweights Ocean Springs (16-1-2) and Gulfport (19-1-2) class at the Gulfport High School soccer complex. Ocean Springs handed the Lady Admirals a 3-1 loss in an early season matchup. Both teams advanced with wins at home over the weekend. Gulfport shutout Brandon 4-0 while Ocean Springs squeaked out a 1-0 win on PKs over NW Rankin. Defending state runner-up Clinton takes on Lewisburg in the North State final.
In 5A, defending State Champion Florence (15-5) travels to West Harrison (16-4-1). The Lady Hurricanes defeated East Central 2-1, while Florence eliminated George County for the second year in a row 2-0. Defending North State champion Lafayette takes on Saltillo, looking for a possible rematch of last year’s State Championship.
Also looking to defend their state title is 4A Stone. The Lady Tomcats (15-4-1) face a familiar opponent in the Cinderella Bay High Lady Tigers (10-10-3). A 3 seed coming into the playoffs, Bay defeated Pass Christian 1-0 to advance to the South State Finals, while the Lady Tomcats shut out Greene County 4-0. Stone defeated the Lady Tigers 2-0 and 5-2 in division play this season. If Stone advances, they could face a familiar opponent in the finals as New Albany looks to defeat West Lauderdale and look to avenge last season’s championship loss.
Another division rivalry will settle South State in the Class I bracket as defending champion OLA (8-8-1) travels to St. Patrick (16-1) to face the Lady Irish in their 3rd matchup of the season. OLA upset top seed Sacred Heart 1-0, while St. Patrick quickly dispatched Loyd Star 6-0. St. Patrick swept the division matchups 1-0 and 3-1. The survivor of Saturday’s matchup will play the winner of Tupelo Christian and Amory for the Class I title.
On the boy’s side, Gulfport has the longest road trip of any coast team as they head up Highway 49 to take on Brandon(16-2-1) for the 6A South title. The Admirals (13-7-2) took down coast rival Ocean Springs 2-1, while Brandon won at Biloxi 2-1. In the northern half of the state, Starkville will take on Clinton.
In 5A, Long Beach’s quest for a 3peat continues. The Bearcats (14-2-3) take on division rival Pearl River Central (14-7). Long Beach survived South Jones 1-0, while PRC ended cross-county rival Picayune’s run 4-0. Long Beach took both regular season division matchups 3-0 and 2-1. In the North, it is the same matchup we have on the girl’s side as Lafayette and Saltillo collide.
In 4A, we have a neighborhood brawl as Bay High(17-5-2) looks to defend their South State title by traveling to the Pass to take on the Pirates. Pass Christian (16-7-1) defeated Greene County 3-0, while Bay went on the road and defeated Stone 3-1 to set up round 3 of this matchup. Pass Christian won the first two matches, 3-2 and 2-0. In Class, I, defending champion St. Stanislaus (10-6-1), faces division foe Sacred Heart (11-3). The Rock-a-chaws came into the playoffs as a 3 seed and upset St. Patrick on PKs to advance. Sacred Heart destroyed Loyd Star 7-0 and won both regular season matchups over SSC by identical 3-0 scores. Amory, who lost to St. Stanislaus in the final last season, travels to St. Andrews for the North State title.
South State winners travel to Jackson on Friday, February 4, with 4A and 5A heading to Brandon while Class I and 6A head to Ridgeland. Class I and 4A girls play at noon, followed by the boys, while 5A and 6A girls get started around 4 pm with the boys to follow.