Lafayette girls soccer lock up top seed in region with win over Saltillo

Published 8:38 am Friday, January 14, 2022

The Lafayette girls’ soccer team secured a key victory at home Thursday night, defeating rival Saltillo 2-1 after a furious comeback in the second half.

The Commodores (14-3, 4-0 Region 1) were blitzed out of the gate and struggled to keep possession early in the first half.

They nearly conceded a goal in the opening moments of the game after a defensive miscue that led to a Tigers breakaway. The resulting shot bounced just wide of the net, prompting a collective sigh of relief from the home supporters.

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That relief turned to outrage just a few moments later when Saltillo scored the first goal of the game, a laser into the bottom right corner following a pinpoint pass over the top of the defense. Cries of “offsides” rang throughout the stadium, but the referee indicated a goal after a brief conference with his assistant on the sideline.

The Tigers’ counter attack was devastating throughout the first half, generating chance after chance in front of the net. The Commodores were able to keep the damage to a minimum thanks to a strong defensive effort anchored by goalkeeper Della Shackelford.

“We just kind of panicked a little bit at the beginning once we got scored on,” said head coach Melinda Scruggs. “We just had to settle in and figure out the best way to solve things.”

The Commodores looked like a completely different team after conceding, dominating possession throughout the rest of the half.

Lafayette nearly broke through midway through the first half when Caroline Perkins sliced up the defense with a step-over that nearly dropped her defender to the ground. The freshman fired a shot into the bottom-left corner that was deflected beyond the touchline by Saltillo’s keeper for a corner.

The Tigers seemed content to concede possession, sitting back in their own half and igniting their deadly counter attack whenever opportunities arose. They nearly added to their lead in the closing minutes of the half when a well-placed cross into the box fell to the feet of a streaking forward, only to be snatched away by Shackelford at the last moment.

The Commodores came out with a fury in the second half, taking control of the game with incisive passing and strong team defense.

“We just had to solve their system,” Scruggs said. “They were in a bit of a different system than we were used to… but I think we solved it in the second half.”

Lafayette finally got on the board with just over 12 minutes remaining thanks to another remarkable effort from Perkins. The speedy forward broke through the defense and snuck a dribbler past the Saltillo keeper to even the score at 1-1.

Both teams scrambled to find the winner in the closing minutes, ceding possession back and forth but failing to come up with a solid opportunity to score.

With just seconds remaining in the game, Lafayette was awarded a free kick from about 25 yards out. Aiyanah Jones stood over the ball, pondering her options before launching a rocket that hit off the crossbar and ricocheted back into the box right to the feet of teammate Lillie Grace McCutchen, who put the ball in the back of the net as the Commodore faithful erupted in cheers.

As the referee whistled the end of the match Scruggs lifted her arms in the air with relief, patting her players on the back as they streamed onto the pitch to celebrate the victory.

“I don’t think it was the cleanest game we had when it comes to keeping possession, but ultimately I think they put the work in and did enough to win,” Scruggs said. “They played as a group, as a team. It was fun to watch.”

The win secured the top spot in the region for Lafayette, who also clinched their 11th consecutive playoff birth.

“This is what you play for. You want to play for the playoffs and hopefully moving on from there,” Scruggs said. “You don’t want to look too far in advance, because once the playoffs hit it is just one game at a time but these girls put the work in to this point. We just gotta keep working hard and being positive and looking for the next game.”

The Commodores close out their regular season with a pair of non-region games against Mooreville on Jan. 18 and DeSoto Central on Jan. 20th before attempting to secure their fourth consecutive 5A state championship.