The Starkville Academy Volunteers fought windy conditions at the Starkville Sportsplex Monday afternoon, but it did not keep them from moving one step closer to a championship.
Defeating Pillow Academy 4-0 in the quarterfinals, the Volunteers will advance to the semifinals to face Jackson Academy at 3 p.m. on Thursday.
Thanks to a rather breezy atmosphere things started off slow as both teams remained scoreless during the first half.
“We wanted to attack with wind the first half, but they won the coin toss so that didn’t work out for us,” Starkville Academy soccer coach Robert Gardner said. “(In) the second half, we had the wind at our backs and we were able to put massive amounts of pressure on them. We didn’t make it easy on them for any part of the second half.”
Starkville Academy did see a few scoring opportunities. Shooting twice from the corner, the Volunteers came close to success but were stopped by the Mustangs on each attempt.
The second half action was more eventful for Starkville Academy as it attempted eight shots and found the net on four.
The Vols began their offensive surge with a shot from the left side of the box courtesy of Jack Burton. Burton’s shot was a team effort as he was assisted by Austin Miles in giving Starkville Academy the one goal lead.
“I was real proud of Jack because he came in and created a half yard of space for himself and then he just put his foot through the center of it,” Gardner said. “It was just a fantastic shot into the corner and the keeper didn’t have much of a chance on it.”
Jamison McKee was assisted by Matt Jones as the pair teamed up to provide the second goal of the night for the Volunteers. Again coming from the left side of the box, McKee hit what his coach called a “very hard shot into the left side of the net” to get past the Pillow goal keeper and to give Starkville Academy a 2-0 lead.
For Starkville Academy’s third goal, it turned to Zack Slaughter. From the top of the box, Slaughter scored unassisted to provide the Volunteers with a 3-goal advantage.
Two more SA players got involved with the action late in the game as Jake Goodwin’s corner kick found Dylan Dempsey in the center of the box to make it 4-0.
Dempsey’s goal sealed the victory and sent the Volunteers forward in the playoffs.
Having tied with Pillow twice before in the regular season, picking up the victory on Thursday was special for Gardner and his team.
“We did not field our strongest team due to injuries, sickness and those things that come from playing in the dead of winter,” Gardner said. “It was one of those where we played them for two games and unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to play our strongest team and we certainly did (Monday).
“That was one thing that I thought was going to be a massive difference and sure enough it was. We scored four goals and they didn’t score any so I am very pleased with our group.”
Slaughter echoed his coach on how much having a “fully functional” team meant to the SA victory.
“(In) the first two games, we had people out, (and) a lot of injuries,” Slaughter said. “Thankfully, we got them in our playoffs when we had everybody fully functional so that helped a lot.”
With the Pillow game behind them, Slaughter says the Vols can begin looking ahead to “getting business done” as they face Jackson Academy on Thursday.