(FILE) â€“ Starkville High School senior soccer player Alvaro Pichardo (9) contributed a goal during Thursday's victory over Columbus at Yellowjacket Stadium. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
By JOEL COLEMAN
The wind blew. The precipitation came down. Teeth chattered as the temperature dropped, virtually by the minute.
Harsh conditions aside, the Starkville boys soccer team just kept on rolling.
The Yellowjackets, celebrating their Senior Night, downed Columbus 6-0 on Thursday, climbing one step closer towards the Class 6A, Division 2 title.
"The guys knew what we needed to do," said SHS head coach Brian Bennett. "We needed to keep the shutout in case of any tie-breaking situation. That's what we did."
Starkville (14-0-1, 3-0 in Class 6A, Division 2) faces Neshoba Central today at 5 p.m. in a non-division matchup before traveling to Tupelo for what looks to be a critical match on Saturday.
If Tupelo beats struggling Columbus today, Saturday's contest between the Golden Wave and the Jackets would determine the division champion.
SHS squeaked by Tupelo 1-0 at home on Tuesday.
To even get to this point however, Starkville had to take care of business on Thursday.
It didn't take long for the Jackets to get rolling as one of their seniors honored before the game, Muhammad Dalhalalla, broke away for an easy goal in the third minute putting SHS up 1-0.
Columbus (1-14, 0-3 in Class 6A, Division 2) couldn't slow down Starkville from there.
Price Day scored in similar breakaway fashion in the seventh minute, Justin Gordon made it 3-0 with his goal in the 15th minute and Day drilled home his second goal of the game with a penalty kick in the 26th minute.
The Jackets expanded their lead to 5-0 before halftime on a free kick in the 30th minute by senior Alvaro Pichardo, who admittedly enjoyed the night honoring he and his classmates.
"It's great that we keep winning like this and it was so easy," said Pichardo. "We wish it could have been a little bit warmer since it was Senior Night, but we're doing good. We've just got to keep rolling and keep this intensity."
Before the game was called in the 60th minute, Lewis Maynard's goal capped the scoring.
It was a fitting end to Starkville's regular season home slate and just the way Pichardo had hoped the SHS seniors' last regular season home game would go.
"We only have a few (seniors), but the guys that we have are great," said Pichardo. "We work hard at practice, bringing leadership and stuff. We have Garrett (Batson) who has only played soccer for three years, but he's one of the most important players on the team. Muhammad (Dalhalalla) is a great keeper. If you need him at keeper, he'll be there. If you need him on defense, he'll be on defense."
Not to be left out is Pichardo himself.
"Alvaro has been here for as long as he could play," said Bennett. "I think he wanted to come out in the sixth grade. He loves to play and you can see his skill level and how much he means to the team."
Now it's up to Pichardo, Dalhalalla, Batson and the rest of the Jackets to try and wrap up a division crown this weekend.
"We've just got to keep playing at this level," said Bennett. "It's hard for them because their skill level is so high to not try and do more than they need to be doing. We just have to try and keep it a little more simple and not get too fancy. When we play simple, we look pretty good."
Much like the boys, the Lady Jackets also dealt with Mother Nature on Thursday and likewise pulled out a win on their Senior Night.
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"I'm proud of the girls and we had fun tonight," said SHS head coach Anna Albritton. "We needed that. We needed that as a pressure release after (Tuesday's loss to Tupelo)."
Columbus (6-10-2, 0-3 in Class 6A, Division 2) was sparked early with a goal by Cacovia Millsap in the eighth minute, putting the Lady Falcons up 1-0.
Albritton said the early deficit lit a fire under her team.
"I heard some players start communicating to the other players what they needed to do," said Albritton. "It got our attention."
It didn't take long for Starkville to answer back as Carolina Berryhill tied the game with her goal in the 15th minute.
Senior Morgan Miller gave SHS a 2-1 advantage in the 17th minute, taking advantage of a Noa Hardin assist, and Berryhill struck again for a long-range goal in the 21st minute.
"First goal, I just got the ball and kicked it in," said Berryhill. "Second goal, we were up 2-1 and needed another one and I shot it and it hit (Columbus goalkeeper Lauren David's) hands and just went straight in. I didn't think it was going to go in, but I'm happy that it did."
From there, Starkville (12-3, 2-1 in Class 6A, Division 2) cruised to the win.
Hannah Laird added a goal in the 33rd minute, Haley Jenkins made it 5-1 with a score in the 69th minute before senior Tierra Tillman gave the match a fitting ending with her goal in the 77th minute.
"(Tillman) got to score and I was so proud for her to get to do that (on Senior Night)," said Albritton. "That was awesome. Her mom was here to see it. I kept Morgan (Miller) in there as long as I could and Raevonne (Shoemaker) stayed in the whole game, along with Shiela Arun Kumar. They're all just good girls and we're gonna miss them. They all have good personalities and they all bring a lot of different things to the team."
Starkville returns to action today at Neshoba Central before facing Tupelo on the road Saturday.