Sacred Heart girls, boys punch tickets to State ChampionshipBy CAMAL PETRO,
HATTIESBURG – The Sacred Heart Crusaders’ knife was sharp in Tuesday’s 1A/2A/3A South State Championship. That’s how head coach Joe Falla explained his team’s win over Resurrection to earn a trip to the State Championship.
After a two-year hiatus, the Crusaders are back in the state title game for the first time since 2015. It’s also the first time since 2013 that the Crusaders and Lady Crusaders will both play for a State Championship, as the girls advanced earlier in the night with a 3-2 win over Our Lady Academy.
Both the boys and girls’ teams will wait until Wednesday night to find out which team they’ll face Saturday, as the St. Joe and St. Andrews boys and girls’ teams are playing for the North State Championship. The 1A/2A/3A girls’ State Championship is set for a Noon kickoff at Ridgeland High School, and the boys’ game will follow at 2 p.m.
“We weren’t supposed to be here,” Falla said. “Nobody gave us any credit. I didn’t build it up too much. Deep down inside I knew what I had, and (this season) was just a progression. We got better every time we got on the field. We’re peaking at the right time and tonight, the win was on character.”
Sacred Heart had upperclassmen-heavy teams the past two seasons, but it took a roster with only one senior and multiple sophomores and freshmen to get the program back to a State Championship.
“Purely heart,” Falla said of the young players. “A win like that defines heart.”
Miller Hayden, one of those key freshmen who made a huge impact this season, scored the game-winning goal for Sacred Heart in the 72nd minute. He has a simple explanation for why the underclassmen are leading this team to their ultimate goal – a State Championship.
“Whenever we had those seniors, we’d always practice with those seniors and it really helped us and we’d get a lot better,” he said. “Our eighth graders from last year, we’d come in when we were up and that helped us get better also. We have a little bit of experience for freshmen and sophomores.”
Hayden scored his goal moments after missing a close shot wide right. He split two Resurrection defenders on the right side, then finished his shot with his left foot to the near post. He knew what the Resurrection goalkeeper was going to do, too.
“Whenever I shot (the first time), I kind of realized what he did,” Hayden said. “So the next time I got it, I just put it where I thought would be right since what he did the last time. He really didn’t cover the near post, so I just put it there.”
Resurrection had plenty of goal-scoring opportunities prior to Hayden’s goal. It outshot Sacred Heart in the first half, then had back-to-back corner kicks in the 71st minute, two minutes before Hayden’s score. Resurrection senior Patrick Lee also ripped a shot in the 59th minute, but Sacred Heart keeper Carson Hall made a diving save to his left to keep it a 0-0 game.
Lady ’Saders 3, OLA 2: The moment never gets old for Sacred Heart girls’ coach Joe “Papa” Falla and his players.
“Oh my goodness, you know somebody asked me that before the game started,” Papa said when asked if he gets used to State Championship berths. “We worked so hard to get to this point. As a coach, my goodness, I don’t know. It gets tougher and tougher and tougher as you go, especially playing against a team like that. They are a good team, but we managed to get it done.”
Tuesday’s win marks the third straight trip to the 1A/2A/3A State Championship and fifth time in the last six seasons for Sacred Heart. It’ll be a different foe this year, though, as Sacred Heart will matchup with the winner of St. Joe-St. Andrews.
“They are excellent teams, whether it’s St. Joe or St. Andrews,” Papa said. “They’re excellent teams, they’re very disciplined, but we can play with them. We’ve played with them before.
“It really doesn’t make any difference to me who is out there for a championship. It really doesn’t make any difference. I have the players.”
Sacred Heart took an early lead after a corner kick from junior Jessica Hyde bounced around inside the 18-yard box for too long. Freshman Olivia Ware was the first to the ball, but the shot deflected back into play where eighth-grader Gracie Falla was there to finish it off.
That gave Sacred Heart a 1-0 lead after nine minutes of play.
OLA wouldn’t stay down for too long, though, scoring the equalizer in the 25th minute. A Crescents player got free up top with only Jillian Hall, the Sacred Heart keeper, to beat.
But, what turned out to be the theme of the night, the Lady ’Saders answered OLA’s game-tying with a go-ahead score. It wasn’t as quick as the answer in the second half, but Sacred Heart regained the lead 10 minutes later in the 35th minute.
Ware sent a shot from the left side, from about 30 yards out, up and over the OLA keeper. The shot bent in to sneak inside the crossbar to give the Lady ’Saders a 2-1 lead heading into halftime.
“It was perfect,” Papa said of Ware’s shot. “That was a pro shot right there, and we practiced that.”
The two teams went scoreless for most of the second half, but the Crescents tied the game back up in the 70th minute, 2-2. Sacred Heart, however, answered less than a minute later to put it up for good.
Gracie Falla pushed the ball up the right side, then fired a rocket that was saved. The ball bounced rolled free inside the 6-yard box only to be hammered in by freshman Lauren Jones, who apparently wanted to come out of the game because her back was hurting.
“I told her, ‘Your back is going to hurt for just a few more seconds. This game is almost over,’” Papa said.