by Anthony VanCourt, Contributing Writer

It was a beautiful day for soccer in the Magnolia State as teams from across Mississippi made their way to the Jackson-Metro area to compete in the MHSAA State Championships.

In the 5A girls game, the West Harrison Hurricanes (17-4-1) would battle the Saltillo Tigers (16-3) after both teams pulled off dramatic upsets in the semifinal round to Florence and Lafayette County respectively.

For the Hurricanes, the road to the finals was not easy with every match coming against a traditional contender in West Jones, East Central, and the defending 5A champion Florence Eagles while Saltillo coasted through the playoffs until they reached the North State Championship match against Region 1-5A rivals Lafayette County Commodores winning 3-2 in overtime to earn their first ever trip to the state championship.

From the opening whistle, the Hurricanes were under intense pressure with the Tigers going immediately on the attack producing several opportunities, but West Harrison’s defense would stand firm behind some fearless goalkeeping by junior Morgan Hopwood. Despite the intense pressure from Saltillo, the first half would end scoreless.

Early in second half action, West Harrison’s Stevie Kerns found herself free down the right side driving into the penalty area past a Saltillo defender, but her shot was just wide of the goal.

The Hurricanes would continue to struggle for offense throughout the half while Saltillo turned up the heat on the Hurricanes forcing Hopwood into several fantastic saves.

With 26:28 left in the match Hopwood deflected a goal-bound shot from the Tigers off the crossbar before finally securing the loose ball keeping the game scoreless.

For Saltillo, the goal they were looking for came with 19:12 left in the match from a corner that left West Harrison players in disbelief.

From this point on the Hurricanes continued to struggle with the speed and aggressiveness of Saltillo letting their frustration show as several yellow cards were issued in the final minutes of the match.

With 3:14 left, a handball committed by the Hurricanes in their penalty area would give Saltillo a chance to finish off the contest. Saltillo’s Olivia Miller put away the penalty to make the score 2-0 moments before the final whistle and give the Saltillo Lady Tigers their first ever state championship in soccer.

A visibly exhausted West Harrison would see their special season come to an end with a record of 17-5-1.

Despite the loss, three Lady Hurricanes will have one last game to play when Abbie Hancock, Meredith Rogers, and Stevie Kerns will represent West Harrison in the Mississippi Coast HS Soccer All-Star game on Monday, February 6th at the Jackson County Soccer Complex in Gautier with kickoff set for 5:30pm.