By John Davis, Sports Editor
MADISON – Every time the Lafayette’s Alley Houghton touched the ball, there was a West Lauderdale Lady Knight in her way. <>
The couple of times she was able to get off a clear shot in Saturday’s MHSAA Class 4A state title match, West Lauderdale made a stop. Even the goal that Houghton was able to score in her final high school match came off a rebound. It was just that type of day for her, and the Lady Commodores.
West Lauderdale defended Houghton like no other team this season, and then found a way to score against Lafayette’s strong defense to the tune of three goals. The 3-1 victory for West Lauderdale prevented the Lady Commodores from claiming a second straight title. A year after controlling the title match against Northeast Jones at Madison Central, it was a total reversal for the Lady Commodores, who finished the year 20-3 overall.
“They’re a phenomenal team. You can tell that almost all those kids play club ball. They have such depth, background and they made tons of subs,” LHS coach Melinda Scruggs said after consoling her team and praising their effort. “They are very talented team and I think the sky is the limit for them in the future. We matched up, we just didn’t have it on our side today.”
A second straight championship was not in the cards for the Lafayette Lady Commodores, who lost to a team without a senior on its roster. Riley Thompson, Caroline Green and Erica Gaddine each scored a goal for West Lauderdale, which finished the season 21-2.
Lafayette fell behind 1-0 in the first half was held without a goal until Houghton was able to score at the 78 minute mark. By then, the Lady Knights had established control of the match with a 3-0 lead. It was clear that Houghton, an Ole Miss signee, was the focus of the Lady Knights on defense. Coach Alex George confirmed that strategy following the match, and then praised his junior goalie, Clair Campbell, for the saves she made on Houghton during the match.
“We knew that defensively that we had to stay close to (Houghton) and not let her turn. There were still times that she did get loose. It’s virtually impossible to keep her contained, but we just kept forcing her wide,” George said. “I thought it would be a 2-1 game to be honest with. I told our girls at the half that one wasn’t going to be enough to beat this team. I just felt like (Houghton) would get loose eventually and she could tie it up at any time. That second goal really gave us the momentum we needed.”
Scoring goals is nothing new for the Lady Knights who were the top offensive team in the state of Mississippi, regardless of classification. They had scored 125 goals coming into the meeting, with 18 of those coming in the playoffs. Lafayette had played teams like Oxford, Brandon and Tupelo that also like to possess the ball just like West Lauderdale.
“I really wanted us to keep our foot on the gas. I thought there were moments where Lafayette would feel the need, that they had to step it up a notch,” George said. “While I think we got lucky a time or two, I think the girls did a fantastic job of defending in the back.”
Lafayette had the experience coming into the match, and George thought that would be a factor.
“Experience is worth a lot and Lafayette had that experience. We came in 2013 and our juniors were just eighth graders then,” George said. “We didn’t know what to expect, but I think scoring that first goal really settled us in. It helped us.”
Thompson scored the game’s first goal, just seven minutes into the contest. Scruggs was aware of her talent heading into the match.
“Both teams had players that were outstanding. I think all around, I couldn’t have ask my girls to do a better job of pressuring and giving everything they could have,” Scruggs said. “I don’t know if we couldn’t have made some other adjustments, but I know they left it all on the field, and that’s all I can ask of them.”
Despite coming up short, Scruggs said she couldn’t have asked for any more from the girls to get into the position they did.
“Unfortunately we didn’t come out on top, but to get to this position again, that’s all I can ask,” Scruggs said. “They have done so much to improve and to continue to grow as a team. We’ve seen results to get here. There always has to be a winner and a loser and we’re on the losing end today. We’re going to look to next year and if we have the same heart and desire, we can be back here today again. It is hard for me to tell them to keep their head up, especially at this age. But we will learn from this, grow from this and we’ll go back and look at film to see what things we can do different.”