Second-half flurry ends West Jones’ season in South State

LONG BEACH — The last time West Jones faced Long Beach, in 2016, the Lady Mustangs trailed by a goal at the half of their heated second-round playoff matchup at The Shoe. They then bombarded the Lady Bearcats with four goals in the final 40 minutes to advance to the South State championship.

Tuesday night on the Gulf Coast, the ’Stangs had the same setup. But the result was different.

The home team scored two goals two minutes apart to open the second half and put the Lady Mustangs into a fog that seemed thicker than the one that blanketed the playing field.

The Lady Bearcats (15-6-2) scored twice in the first four minutes of the second half to win 3-0 and advance to the Class 5A state championship game today (Saturday) against Lafayette (23-2) in Brandon. The Lady Mustangs finished their season at 14-8.

“Tonight, we just were not the best team,” WJ coach Craig Winship said. “Long Beach came out and played fast and played well. We didn’t adjust well.”

The Lady Mustangs got off a quick shot on goal early, but Long Beach shut them down the rest of the way.

“They dominated the middle of the field,” Winship said of the home team, which knocked off South Jones 1-0 to advance to the South State title game. “They pressed us hard every time we touched the ball. They made us play faster than we wanted to, and we’re a fast-playing team.”

One bright spot for the Lady Mustangs came after the game, when Winship told the seniors to step toward the end of the track for a special meeting. Only a handful separated from the crowd of white-clad players who were hugging and consoling each other after the loss.

“I have most of these girls for another three or four years,” he said, noting that 28 of the Lady Mustangs earned letters, most playing for half of the games. “We have a ton of experience coming back.”

Leading scorer Bri Carr (12 goals), a Jones College signee, is one of the seniors he’s losing, along with Brinley Bullock, Lyndsey Bryant, Alyssa Ezell and Lizbeth Oliveras.

“They are some of the best senior leaders I’ve ever coached,” Winship said. “Their presence will be missed as much as their talent.”

Those five 12th-graders combined for 17 of the Lady Mustangs’ 90 goals. Among the top returners are freshman Jenny Batista (11 goals), sophomore Bailey James (9 goals), eighth-grader Ella Jefcoat (9 goals) and junior Kaylee Chennault (7 goals, 12 assists).

Winship said that the loss “stings right now,” and he encouraged the underclassmen to remember that feeling as they begin training for next season. “I’m excited about our future.

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