By DANNY P. SMITH
The Starkville Lady Yellowjackets had 20 shots on goal against Oxford on a chilly Monday night at home.
It's been pretty much the story all season for the Lady Jackets as they have failed to cash in on many opportunities.
SHS girls soccer coach Anna Albritton has been searching for someone to step up and start converting some of those chances into goals.
Anna Underwood responded to that challenge against the Oxford Lady Chargers, and she's only an eighth grader.
Two goals by Underwood, one in the first half and one in the second half, was enough for the Lady Jackets as they won a 2-1 match against the Lady Chargers.
"All year long we've dominated the opponent's side of the field, but can not finish," Albritton said. "(Monday), Anna Underwood found a way to finish for us so I've got to keep throwing her in there and letting her do it. I know sometimes (as a young team) they get scared to death, but she did a great job."
Underwood, who has played soccer since she was 6-years-old, has committed herself to the sport.
She used that experience to help her score the two goals Starkville needed for the victory.
"I've just played a really long time and I've just worked on it," Underwood said.
The Lady Jackets stopped a two-match losing streak and improved to 7-2 this season.
With such a young squad, Albritton knows any match that turns out to be a win is very good.
"They are young," Albritton said. "I've got a 13-year-old on the midfield, a 14-year-old on the midfield, and a 15-year-old on the midfield. They are trying to do what I've asked them to do, but it's not clicking on all cylinders just yet.
"We're fighting and as my assistant coach (Kill Killen) sometimes says, 'it seems like we are fighting for our lives out there, but they are trying to set things up. They are seeing it, but just not executing. We're losing the 50-50 balls and are not stepping into passes. We're just kind of sitting back, watching and the other teams scoop it up and go with them. When we get that fixed, we're going to be a completely different team."
The ninth match of the season is the first to be played under extremely cold conditions as the temperature dipped into the 20s during the course of the night.
Albritton considers the players lucky to be this close to Christmas break and it's just now turning cold because usually it hits earlier.
Underwood said thoughts about the weather go away as she prepares to play a match.
"It's cold, but once you warm up, you are warm," Underwood said.
It will remain cold tonight when Starkville hosts Neshoba Central in a rescheduled match. Girls action begins at 5 p.m.
It took two rounds of penalty kicks, but the Jackets remained undefeated when sophomore Taylor Wise hit the winning shot.
Even though he doesn't think his squad is playing its best soccer, Starkville coach Brian Bennett was happy to get the win any way possible against Oxford. The Jackets improved to 8-0-1.
Bennett credited the ability to score on penalty kicks and the play of goal keeper Addison Watson as keys to the victory.
"He made great saves," Bennett said of Watson. "Sometimes you win them ugly, but we'll take it. We've played pretty and lost it."
After the match was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, the two teams traded made penalty kicks in the first round. Watson, Daniel Fumo and Dylan Howard made shots for Starkville.
Garrett Batson and Justin Gordon scored goals in the second round for the Jackets, then Wise kicked in the winner after an Oxford miss.
In regulation, the match remained scoreless until the 5:30 mark of the first half when Alvaro Pichardo knocked in a penalty kick for SHS.
The Chargers tied the match with a goal with 19 minutes left in the second half.
"That team really hustled and they went after every ball so I give Oxford a lot of credit because they really played hard," Bennett said.
Junior Price Day suffered an ankle injury last week and wasn't in the lineup for the Jackets against Oxford.
Bennett said not having Day hampered what Starkville was trying to do.
"Price rolled his ankle before Friday's game, then Saturday it was still kind of bad and he kicked the ground," Bennett said. "He's going to try and rest it and see if he can come back Friday."