At first, West Lauderdale vs. Newton County had a similar feel to when the two teams squared off on Jan. 17.
In that game, the Lady Knights and Lady Cougars remained scoreless for most of contest before a late goal by Alice Williamson lifted West Lauderdale to a 1-0 win and secured the Lady Knights a Region 4-4A title. Monday evening at Meridian Community College, the two faced off again, this time in the MHSAA Class 4A girls soccer North State title game with a state championship berth on the line.
The score was 0-0 at halftime, just like in the Jan. 17 contest, as the Lady Cougars sold out defensively in hopes of either winning a low-scoring game or sending it to penalty kicks. But a goal by senior Railey Mayatt in the 46th minute put the momentum in West Lauderdale’s favor, and three more goals by the Lady Knights gave them a 4-0 victory and a trip to Brandon High School for Saturday’s 4A state title game.
“I told them at halftime, ‘Forget Xs and Os right now, we just have to stay calm. It’s coming,’” West Lauderdale head coach Alex George said. “We were getting plenty of looks. They were sitting tight and were bunkered down, so we knew we were going to have to be patient. We had about 10 to 15 shots in the first half and couldn’t get on the end of them, but I knew if we ever got that one goal, we’d get things going, and it did.”
Lady Cougars head coach Zac Foreman said the game became an uphill battle once West Lauderdale scored its first goal.
“The first half was good,” Foreman said. “We played pretty solid defensively, and obviously in the second half we had to push some up after they got that first goal, then we gave up a few more, so not ideal in the second half.”
Mayatt said her goal in the 46th minute felt like a weight was lifted off her, and it helped relax her and her teammates for the rest of the game.
“I was kind of worried in the first half when we couldn’t get one in, but I knew once we put one in that we would get some more in, too,” Mayatt said. “Whenever they play defense like that, it’s always concerning, but I have hope in our team to be able to score so it (doesn’t go to penalty kicks).”
Following Mayatt’s first goal, she scored again in the 50th minute to give the Lady Knights a 2-0 lead. Williamson made it 3-0 in the 68th minute off an assist from Anna Claire Nance in the 68th, and Lucy Green scored West Lauderdale’s final goal one minute later.
The Lady Knights are known for winning most games comfortably, but George said those expectations have to be tempered in the playoffs against good teams like Newton County.
“The storyline is always, ‘West scores five goals,’ but in these situations — in the playoffs — you need one goal,” George said. “It’s like a touchdown in the Super Bowl. You need to win by one.”
West Lauderdale (22-1-3) has now made the Class 4A state title game for the fifth year in a row, and the Lady Knights will try to win their fourth championship in that span.
“It’s amazing,” Mayatt said. “It’s my senior year, and I really want to win state, so it’s great to be able to go back and play again.”
Newton County finished its season with a 15-8 record. After making it to the second round of the playoffs last year, the Lady Cougars earned a berth in the third round this year, and Foreman said he’s confident the program can continue to build on that progress.
“We have a lot of youth, and a lot of eighth graders that stepped up and started for us this year and played big minutes and big games, so hopefully we continue the trend,” Foreman said.
The Lady Cougars graduate four seniors this spring: Katelynn Gipson, Alex Weir, Olivia Clark and Audrie Gentry.