Holding just a 2-0 lead at halftime, Oak Grove girls soccer coach Clay Smith’s message was simple – to not take the foot off the gas.
The Lady Warriors responded with four goals in the second half, which sealed Oak Grove’s 6-0 win over West Harrison and advanced the team to the second round of the 6A playoffs.
“I told them at the half that a 2-0 lead is the worst lead in soccer because they feel like the game is over and it’s not,” Smith said. “You score one goal, and then the other team can get back in.”
According to Smith, his reasoning for telling his team not to let up was because of the superstition that a 2-0 lead is the least secure lead to have in the game of soccer.
“You’ve got to get that third goal to get that 2-0 lull out,” Smith said. “A lot of teams in soccer, when they get those two goals, will lay down a little bit. I’m proud of them in that second half. They made sure we took care of business and didn’t let that happen.
“(I said) don’t play like you have the lead. Play like you are behind. Play like it’s 0-0. You can’t take your foot off the gas. That was the biggest message I gave them.”
Despite Smith’s insistence to keep up the pressure, Oak Grove (11-4-1) held early control as the Lady Warriors outshot the Lady Canes 8-3 in the first half. However, the difference maker of the first half for Oak Grove was Taylor Stewart, who scored both goals in the half.
In both goals, Stewart was able to get a one-on-one matchup with West Harrison’s goalkeeper, which according to Smith, is her specialty.
“Taylor is a good one-on-one player,” Smith said. “She has that one-on-one artistry. She can take players on and make cuts and moves. She did that tonight, especially that second goal where she spotted the ball on the sideline and very technically, soundly just dribbled in and popped it past the keeper. That’s not a skill you can really work on. That’s something you have, or you don’t. She has it.”
Kayla Hubbard crossed the ball to Stewart in the 13th minute, which gave her the easy goal. In the 23rd minute, Stewart scored again after dribbling past multiple defenders and easily found the net to give Oak Grove the 2-0 lead.
Smith’s other main adjustment at halftime was for his team to keep the ball closer to the ground to create better opportunities to score.
In the 47th minute, Anna-Marie Harrington took advantage of that exact adjustment as several key passes near the box left her open to score the goal to break the game open for the Lady Warriors.
“We had been telling them to try and get the ball in the ground,” Smith said. “On this field, the ball is hardly on the ground. It’s always bouncing. So we told them to try and keep the ball in the final third, keep it on the ground, create and make things happen and that’s what they did. They kept it on the ground, strung a few passes, and that created the chance for Harrington to score that third goal.”
Harrington scored again in the 58th minute. In addition, Ally Stiglets scored in the 55th minute, and Kathryn Flocked capped off the night with a goal in the 78th minute.
“We played a good game,” Smith said. (West Harrison is) a good opponent. Early in the game, it was close. Defensively we handled some loose balls better than we have in the past, so I was really proud of the defense tonight. We took care of business. We gave ourselves a chance to get to the next round.”
Oak Grove will play the winner of the Brandon-Ocean Springs game in the second round.
“I’m excited for them,” Smith said. “We have worked hard. We’ve been through a lot with all of the COVID and having a couple of major injuries this year. The girls have to deal with a lot this year, and I am so proud of them for staying focused and doing what we ask them to do. To be able to get to the second round after losing in the first round last year is awesome.”