Oak Grove maintained a steady control over Petal for a 3-0 win on a cold Thursday night.
The Lady Panthers forwards had roughly two minutes of possession as the Lady Warriors controlled the game on Petal’s half of the field for most of the game.
“It’s been a month since we have played,” Oak Grove coach Clay Smith said. “The last time we played was Dec. 6, so I knew going in tonight that it would be a little sloppy just because it’s been so long since they played. I was very proud that they were able to get that 3-0 win because, in region play, that helps a lot. It gives you a cushion. Petal played hard. When Petal and Oak Grove play, it’s always a good game.”
The first goal of the night came from Kayla Herring, who scored from 27 yards out.
“(It’s a sign of) her talent level and strength,” Smith said. “She just has a hammer. Some kids have it, and some don’t. She has a God-given talent. If she gets a chance to strike like that, she’s going to hammer it to the goal. I think she’s hit one from 40 yards out before.”
According to Smith, power shots are one of Oak Grove’s specialties as the Warriors have an arsenal of players that have similar leg strength to Herring’s.
“We have a couple of girls that have a hammer,” Smith said. “Kayla Herring has one of the strongest legs that I have ever coached in 26 years. Our strength is that power shot. We had a lot of good crosses. Sometimes finishing in soccer is the hardest thing to do. We had a lot of opportunities over and over, but we couldn’t get them to drop. We just kept trying. The more opportunities you create in this game the more likely you are going to score.”
Despite getting off 11 shots in the first half, Petal (8-2-1) held the Lady Warriors to a 1-0 lead in first half.
However, Oak Grove (6-3-1) continued to control the time of possession.
In the 49th minute, Ally Stiglets scored on a header from a corner kick. The Lady Warriors then closed the night with a goal from Anna O’Quinn, who also scored from a corner kick.
“The corner kicks we try to make sure we take advantage of by getting the right numbers in with the right people,” Smith said. “We try to make sure we take care of framing the goal and take care of all of the points of the goal. We just have to try and get that lucky bounce. We executed our movement tonight, but we just couldn’t get that final bounce or touch in. I was proud of all of them to keep fighting, playing and keep creating (chances).”
Despite the loss, Petal coach Stephen McCarthy was optimistic as to how his team performed, especially his defense.
“(Oak Grove is) a fantastic team every year,” McCarthy said. “They’ll graduate incredible seniors, and then there will be incredible seniors that take their place the next year. We always know it’s going to be a fight when we come here. Even though they are super talented, they don’t get complacent at all. They are always giving it 100%, just like we do. If you mix that effort and that talent, then you always know you’ll have a powerhouse over here.”
Petal’s defense held off 22 shot attempts and 14 corner kicks, with goalie Kinsey Bellinger recording five saves.
“Yes, they had a lot (time with) the ball, but they weren’t able to break us down because we were so disciplined, and we worked so hard,” McCarthy said. “I feel like there is a different mentality with our team this year. Normally Petal, in the past, after giving up a goal or two, we would say this game isn’t there for us. But today and this year, it shows in our results. We have won eight games this year, with a lot we came from behind to win. That there is a heart and a spirit that these girls have got they didn’t have in the past. Again, I could not be more proud of them.”
McCarthy believes that his team will fare much better in the next meeting between the two teams.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the girls,” McCarthy said. “I felt like they were in the game right until the end. A bounce of the ball here or there and it could have been a whole another game. We were playing on turf, so we weren’t used to it, and the ball was getting away from us a little bit. I can’t fault the effort or attitude. I’m so proud of my team tonight. We are going to take them back in two weeks, and we’ll take them to Petal, and it’s going to be a whole another game.”