by Anthony VanCourt, Contributing Writer

It was a battle between old division rivals as Long Beach hosted Gautier in the 2nd round of the MHSAA 5A soccer playoffs. Gautier was coming off a victory over Florence in the 1st round and was hoping for a repeat performance while Long Beach was looking to continue their success from the past two seasons finishing as the 5A State Champion in 2021 and 2022.

As the game began, Long Beach would show their ability to control the tempo of the game early while Gautier relied on a stingy defense to repel the first half scoring chances by the Bearcats.

With 23:53 to play in the 1st half, Long Beach’s Easton VanNorden picked up the ball in the midfield and played a perfectly weighted pass to Dylan Kippes on the break, but Kippes’ shot only found the side of the net.

Later in the 1st half, Victor Hilensky would send a corner-kick to the back post finding the head of Landon VanCourt, but the Gautier keeper was positioned well to make the save. Despite Long Beach dominating pos- session in the opening half, Gautier was not without some opportunities of their own.

A handball by a Long Beach defender just outside the box led to a Gator free kick causing a moment of uncertainty for the Bearcats.

However, the Long Beach defense would stand firm as the kick sailed comfortably over the crossbar.

One last opportunity would come the way of Gautier just before halftime as a misplayed ball allowed a Gautier player to get loose in the Bearcat penalty area, but Long Beach’s Alexander Mink was quick to intervene with Bearcat keeper Liam Sartin coming fast off his line to claim the loose ball leaving the game scoreless going into halftime.

After the break, Long Beach would waste no time going on the attack as Easton van Norden appeared to open the scoring inside the first minute of the 2nd half, but the goal would be ruled out for an apparent offside.

Gautier turned to a more direct approach with a barrage of long passes putting their opponents under some pressure, but the backline of the Bearcats led by senior Connor McNab continued to hold off the Ga- tor attack.

After seeing several chances miss the mark, the Bearcats found the goal they were searching for with 16:03 left in the match.

Vincenzo Jeanfreau picked up a loose ball in the midfield and played a lofted pass to Kippes who found a wide open Easton van Norden for a close range finish giving the Bearcats a 1-0 victory over the Gators.

With the victory, Long Beach (13- 2-3) will continue their playoff run against South Jones (14-2-2) who defeated East Central 3-2 in their 2nd round match-up.

South Jones will be looking for payback in round 3 as the Bearcats defeated the Braves in the 2021 South State Championship on the way to claiming their first soccer state title.

The 3rd round game will be played at Lumpkin-Magee Stadium in Long Beach this Saturday although a start time has yet to be decided. The girls wrapped up their season with a loss on the road against Florence 3-1.