By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
One season after nine seniors, including seven starters, led the Clarkdale girls soccer team to its first state championship appearance, the Bulldogs returned to the Class 1A/2A/3A North State championship game. Clarkdale earned that berth with a 6-1 rout of visiting McLaurin at Chris Mabry Field on Saturday. The Bulldogs will host South Pontotoc on Tuesday for the North State title after the Cougars beat Choctaw Central 3-2 in overtime.
“It’s big,” Clarkdale coach Lea Castleberry said. “After losing nine seniors, a lot of people didn’t have a lot of faith in us. But I think these girls have proved that they can go back.”
Leading that charge for the Bulldogs was a senior in Kayla Phillips. One day after signing with Meridian Community College, Phillips put her arsenal on display as she netted a hat trick in guiding Clarkdale past the Tigers. But Phillips had helps as Haley Dupre’ scored a pair and Kristen Mitchell tacked on a goal as well. Reagan Dupre’ added an assist.
“It’s a team effoft and we all have to play, top to bottom,” Castleberry said. “We talk about it every day, top to bottom everybody has to work and everybody has to contribute. Even the people on the bench have to contribute in some way.”
Still it was Phillips that gave the Bulldogs the big lift. Leading 2-0 late in the first half, McLaurin had found its offense as it started peppering Clarkdale keeper Molly McLeod with shots only to be stuffed by the junior. Then with 8:42 remaining before intermission, Phillips got a turnover and drilled a low shot into the McLaurin net for a confidence-boosting 3-0 lead.
“We talked about not quitting, ever,” Clarkdale assistant Steve Dennis said. “And I think that third goal really helped us. It gave us some momentum and after that we started playing our game.”
Added Castleberry: “It gave us confidence in our game.”
Phillips earlier had given Clarkdale a 2-0 lead little more than 12 minutes in. The Bulldogs scored first off a Dupre’ goal off a corner kick.
Up 3-0 at half, the Bulldogs continued to attack. Not quite two minutes into the second half, Mitchell scored into an empty net after the Tigers’ keeper missed on a long pass. And seven minutes later, Dupre rebounded her own miss to put Clarkdale up 5-0.
Phillips then recorded her hat trick with 17:10 remaining as she lofted a shot from the left sideline about 25 yards away and dropped it into the right corner of the goal. McLaurin’s Kenzie Jenkins scored the Tigers’ lone goal with 15:30 to go.