Lady Crusaders punch ticket to fourth straight state championship

By CAMAL PETRO,

HATTIESBURG – It’s a new team and it’s a new season, but the result remains the same every year for the Sacred Heart Lady Crusaders.

For the fourth straight season, and sixth time in the last seven years, the Lady Crusaders will play for a state title after defeating St. Patrick 5-1 Tuesday night at the Sacred Heart Athletic Complex.

PHOTOS: Click for photos from Matt Bush.

“I said it last year, it just never gets old,” Sacred Heart junior Gabby Falla said. “I was talking to the girls in the locker room. Every year is different for me. I definitely get something different out of it. It’s just a different group of girls and we have people leaving and coming, and I think that’s what makes a difference.”

The Sacred Heart boys team played its south state match Wednesday night at St. Patrick. Check PineBeltSPORTS.com for coverage.

The Lady Crusaders defeated all three playoff opponents by at least three goals, as they took down Magee 11-0 and Clarkdale 3-0 in the first and second rounds. The playoff run isn’t over, but according to Sacred Heart coach Joe Falla, the south state game is always the highest hurdle to clear.

“South state, for me, is probably the hardest game of the year,” Sacred Heart coach Joe Falla said. “For me it is because you have to win. I prepared my team for this. I got my starters and my subs together, and I told them, ‘Listen, this is what it’s all about. If you follow my instructions, you will be victorious,’ and that’s what they did.”

What’s been remarkable about Sacred Heart’s playoff run is not the offensive attack, but the defense. Sacred Heart did score 19 goals in three games, but goalkeeper Jillian Hall has only allowed one goal this postseason, which came Tuesday night. The Lady Crusaders’ defense has only allowed three shots on goal in the last two playoff games as well.

“Our mindset every game is everyone defends and everyone attacks, and we all defend as a unit,” Gabby Falla said. “That’s what sets us apart a lot of times. Once we go to attack, everyone attacks, then everyone gets back (on defense). There’s never no one defending.”

Much like the postseason, Sacred Heart breezed by the Lady Irish with four first-half goals, then it added a fifth goal in the second half to pad the lead. The Lady Crusaders had five different goal scorers, too, and that’s what makes Sacred Heart so dangerous.

“That’s the beauty (of it),” Joe Falla said. “It’s not just one player. We have different players who can score and can hurt you. That’s the beauty of the team.”

Olivia Ware got things started in the seventh minute with a goal that came off a Jessica Hyde corner kick. The ball slipped through the box and found Ware at the back post, who finished it with one touch. Six minutes later, Gracie Falla sent a 25-yard shot from in front of the goal that easily found the back net to make it 2-0.

In the 33rd minute, St. Patrick almost had an own-goal, but when the ball deflected off the goalkeeper, Lauren Jones was there to finish it. Then in the first half stoppage time, Bailee Bennett made it 4-0 after an assist from Gracie Falla.

After St. Patrick scored in the 54th minute, Gabby Falla sent a 30-plus-yard shot in the 60th minute to make it a 5-1 advantage. Falla said her goal was the furthest out she’s scored this season, but she made a 40-yard goal in the state championship last year.

“I always joke about how I’ll never make a shot like that again,” Falla said.

The rematch for the 1A/2A/3A State Championship is set with Sacred Heart and St. Andrews, as the Lady Crusaders scored an overtime goal a year ago to claim the title over the Lady Saints, 2-1.

Sacred Heart and St. Andrews will meet at Brandon High School for the noon state championship match.

“We’re ready,” Gabby Falla said. “We’ve been waiting for this since the preseason.”