By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
Controlling play throughout the night, the Southeast Lauderdale boys soccer team had little trouble advancing in the MHSAA Class 1A/2A/3A playoffs Tuesday.
Allowing just one shot on goal, the host Tigers blanked Winona 5-0. Southeast now hosts South Pontotoc, a 3-1 winner against McLaurin, in the second round Saturday.
“We played, I think, one of our better games tonight,” Southeast coach Mike Thomas said. “We played like a five deep, and defense has been our strong suit.”
That defense, which included Noah Johnson in goal, was rarely tested. And when it was, it shone. Time and again, Southeast defenders cleared the ball before Winona could muster an offensive attack.
The only time Winona really challenged Southeast, which moved to 11-4, came early in the second half with SEL up 2-0. There, Johnson dashed in front of a Winona player to scoop up a pass and the Southeast defense also had to defend several corner kicks within a two-minute span.
And with the defense keeping Winona at bay, it gave the Tigers offense plenty of opportunities, which they took advantage of.
Having already pressured the Winona defense from the outset, Southeast finally pushed a shot past keeper Brady Chandler less than 14 minutes in when Hunter Graham beat his defender to a long pass and scored high.
With little more than six minutes to go before the half, Southeast got some breathing room when Kavaras Martin scored on a rebound off a corner after an inital diving stop by Chandler.
“We got a lot of shots on goal, and it wasn’t just one or two people,” Thomas said. “We had several different ones scoring and putting pressure on. We spread it out.”
That attack continued in the second half. Armed with that lead, Southeast kept pressuring until finally Winona started to crack in the final 12 minutes. First, Andrew Bernard scored on a penalty kick with 11:55 left and then Graham added his second goal with little less than four remaining as he beat Chandler while falling down. Then in the final two minutes Josh Brown scored as Chandler missed on a bounding ball and left an empty net.