The opportunities were there, but Saturday just wasn’t West Lauderdale’s day.
The Knights hosted Ripley at Meridian Community College for the second round of the MHSAA Class 4A boys soccer playoffs and trailed just 1-0 at the half, but several missed opportunities in the box and a goal that was negated by an offside penalty proved costly as Ripley scored twice in the final 40 minutes. The Tigers scored on a penalty kick just two minutes into the second half, and another Ripley goal in the 47th minute made it 3-0.
A late goal by Chance Davidson was the Knights’ only score of the game as they lost 3-1, ending their season with an 11-15-2 record.
“It’s like I told the boys, we played a good 73 minutes, but coming out of the half kind of flat with some miscommunications caused us to give up two (goals),” Knights head coach Matthew Castleberry said. “I thought the penalty was a little soft, but it happens, so to give up two right after the half and play tight the rest of the game and get a goal back there at the end, I thought they fought hard. Ripley has a good group with some talented wingers, some guys who are good on the ball, so overall I felt like our guys fought hard and played well, we just came up a little short.”
A pair of West Lauderdale corner kicks early in the contest were stopped by Ripley’s keeper, and the Knights’ next chance to score came on a breakaway by Davidson in the 23rd minute, in which his shot outside the box hit the right side netting and would have given his team a 1-0 lead. Davidson was called offside, however, and the game remained scoreless until Ripley’s Juan Luna put his team on the board with a goal in the 30th minute.
In the waning minutes of the first half, West Lauderdale again had opportunities in the box with two more corner kicks, but the Knights were unable to find the back of the net either time, and the Tigers went into the break up 1-0.
“I couldn’t really tell from where I was,” Castleberry said about the offside call. “I trust the officiating. He might have been off — it looked like it could have been close either way — but overall, it’s a little unlucky. We had the one bounce around in the goal where just about everyone touched it, and we couldn’t put it in the back of the net. With things like that, it just wasn’t quite our day.”
Ripley’s Freddy Lopez made it 2-0 in the 42nd minute off a penalty kick, and Adrian Ruedas’ goal in the 47th minute gave the Tigers a comfortable lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish. In the 78th minute, Davidson scored to cut Ripley’s lead to 3-1, but there wasn’t enough time for West Lauderdale to mount any kind of comeback effort.
West Lauderdale keeper Ivan Betancourt finished with seven saves.
The Knights came into the season fresh off an MHSAA Class 4A state title game berth the previous winter, but most of the starters from that team were seniors who graduated in May 2019. To get back to the second round of the playoffs after losing so many key players is important for maintaining the program’s status as a 4A contender, Castleberry said.
“For a program to be a 4A staple in the playoffs, I truly believe you have to have continuity,” Castleberry said. “Everybody is going to have a strong class here and there, but to continue to stay in the playoffs and continually get to the second round, North State or state championship, I feel like that’s what you have to have to have a positive program. I’m proud of these guys. I thought they fought hard. Nobody gave them a ton of shots coming into the season because of how many guys we lost, but I felt like they played really well here at the end and just came up a little unlucky.”
Ripley (13-1) advanced to face Newton County Tuesday in the Class 4A North State title game.