FLOWOOD – MRA girls soccer coach Lauren Stratton knew all along she had a really good team. She just needed her players to realize that fact.
If they didn't know before, they sure know now.
MRA stunned No. 2 seed Jackson Prep 4-1 on Thursday night at Flowood in the Academy AAAA semifinals, earning a trip to the state championship game in the process.
Jackson Prep defeated MRA twice during the regular season (2-1 here and 3-1 in Madison). Both defeats came last month. That was so yesterday. Somewhere after that last defeat, the Lady Patriots found their mojo, and they haven't let go of it, winning the past five games by a combined score of 33-5, including a 14-0 victory over Parklane in the opening round of the playoffs on Tuesday evening.
Not only did MRA win on Thursday, it surprisingly dominated from start to finish against the homestanding Lady Patriots, who have won three of the last four state championships and 14 overall.
"I really thought we could win, but I didn't expect the score to be like it was," said MRA senior Aubree Dillon, a Southeastern Louisiana signee. "That surprised me. I had a good feeling coming into the game, the whole team did really. We've been playing at a pretty high level the past couple of weeks, and that carried over into tonight's game."
MRA, 13-5 and winners of five straight, will face defending state champion and top-seeded Jackson Academy on Monday in the title game. The match will be played at JA. The game time is expected to be announced on Friday. The Lady Patriots will be going for the second state championship in program history – the first came in 2012.
"It was a huge win," said Stratton, who was doused with water as she, her players and a large contingent of MRA students rushed the field afterwards in celebration. "We came into the game with a lot of confidence . . . we've been playing really well lately. It's not like we were playing bad before, we were just having a hard time finishing our shots on goal. The last few games we've been able to finish and score some goals, and the whole team began to see what I've been seeing from the start, that we have a really good team. It just took us having some success, and seeing some balls go into the back of the net, for them to finally realize that. We got hot at the right time. Hopefully we can keep it going."
MRA jumped to an early 1-0 lead on a goal by Mary Seitz Young. The Lady Patriots extended the lead to 2-0 later in the first half on a goal by Dillon. The lead grew to 3-0 in the second half on a goal by A.K. McDaniel. Prep scored to make it 3-1, then MRA answered on a header by Bailey Dowell near the end of the match.
Young, Dillon and McDaniel also added one assist apiece.
"We fought the whole game, the entire 80 minutes," Stratton said. "Even when Prep scored, we answered right back."
Young's early left-footed goal proved to be a big boost for MRA. She is one of eight seniors on the team, three of which scored on Thursday night. Those three seniors - Dillon, Young and Dowell - have combined for 20 goals during the Lady Patriots' current five-game winning streak.
"When (Young) came out and scored that one in the first 10 minutes it amped us up even more," Stratton said. "It was gorgeous. That's her shot, though, from the tough side angle on that left side. She made the same kind of kick four of five times in practice yesterday. I was glad to see it go in. I think she knew as soon as she hit it that it was going in."
"I didn't know for sure, but I felt pretty confident it was going in," Young said. "A.K. gave me a good pass, and I was ready for the shot. I wasn't sure if (goalie) was going to be tall enough to get it. Thankfully, she wasn't. It went right over her hands and into the back of the net. I don't shoot that much, but I'm glad I did on that one. It was a good way to start the game, and I think it gave us a lot of momentum. Everything has come together for us at the right time."