The Stars and Pensacola squared off for the conference championship at the Oakes in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Both teams raring to go looking to bring home the conference championship and advance to regional competition.
The game started out with both teams respecting each other. There were no clear chances as both teams looked to feel each other out and to get a foothold in the game. Pensacola began on the front foot, adding pressure onto the Stars. They built the ball well and looked to punish the Stars at moments.
However, the Stars were able to get onto the scoreboard first. Mason Walsh scored in the 34th minute, finding the far corner over the goalkeeper. It was an excellent finish, giving the Stars the momentum they needed.
Pensacola continued to stay organized and looked to disrupt the Stars. They made the game difficult and continued looking for chances to equalize. They did not let the early goal discourage them as they remained resilient and dangerous. The first half ended with the Stars leading 1-0.
The Stars started the second half looking dangerous. Walsh drove to the endline. Pensacola’s defense held strong and stood Walsh up. He was able to create a couple of yards of separation and whipped in a left-footed ball. Santiago Hoyos was on the end of the cross. Hoyos superbly redirected the ball to the far corner, beating the Pensacola goalkeeper in the 62nd minute.
The Stars added a third goal three minutes later. Gardner found himself on the end of a ball in a dangerous position in the Pensacola 18-yard box. Harry Gardner was able to cut the ball back around the penalty kick area for Hoyos. He was able to take the cut back extremely well, catching it on the volley. The strike from Hoyos found the back of the net for his second goal of the night.
Gardner added a fourth goal for the Stars in the 68th minute. He found himself on the end of the cross in Pensacola’s 18-yard box. The Pensacola defense did well to scramble and make it difficult for Gardner. However, he was able to create some separation and found the back of the net expertly. He calmly and neatly tucked it over the goalkeeper’s shoulder, finding the back of the net.
Walsh continued his fantastic game by adding a fifth goal for the Stars in the 89th minute. A penalty kick was awarded and Walsh stepped up. He showed his composure by finding the corner and his second goal of the night.
Even though the second half went in the favor of the Stars, Pensacola never gave up. They continued playing and fighting to find their way back into the game. They had some good spells of possession and challenged the Stars all over the field. Led by Michael Lightbourne, Pensacola looked dangerous in many situations. Overall, it was an excellent effort from the visitors, and they showed that they deserved to be a team in the conference final.
Photo Credit: Shedaina Dieuveille