(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
SIKESTON -- The stellar season for the Sikeston soccer team continued on Monday night as the Lady Bulldogs set their team record for wins with a 1-0 victory over Poplar Bluff.
The win puts the Lady Bulldogs' record at 11-5 and also gives them their fourth SEMO Conference win, the most in team history, and remained undefeated at home.
"At the beginning of the season we didn't get a lot of hoopla about this team after losing our all-time leading scorer and a few good defenders," said Sikeston coach Derrick Long. "We didn't know what we had, but they came out and worked hard every day in practice and got unified about the third or fourth game of the season. I'm not going to say we're going to win it all, but when teams line up against us, they aren't looking forward to playing us anymore."
Poplar Bluff, who matched their season-record in wins just last week, came into the game sporting a 14-2-2 record but the Lady Bulldogs seemed unphased on their home field. As the aggressive Lady Mules seemed to dominate the early part of the game, Sikeston was still able to deny every shot opportunity as goalie Asia Liggins snatched everything within reach.
"The first half I thought we came out a little sluggish," Long said. "We were giving them a lot of opportunities up there and we got lucky a few times they didn't finish those. Asia came out and gave us a couple big saves that kept us in the ballgame."
The tide began to turn in the second half as Sikeston started taking advantage of the aggressive play of the Lady Mules. With Poplar Bluff sending their sweeper up past their defenders, the Lady Bulldogs began pushing up more with their offense, putting more pressure on the Lady Mules defense.
The change in strategy gave Sikeston several break-away attempts and nine minutes into the second half, the Lady Bulldogs took advantage when leading scorer, Keyonna Blissett got loose on a break-away on a punt from Liggins. As Blissett neared the goal, the Poplar Bluff goalie came out and Blissett was able to get the shot past and into the net.
"We practice drills like that in practice where we tap it past (the goalie) or flip it over them," Blissett said. "Coach really tries to beat that into my head."
"Keyonna made a great shot on that," Long said. "She and Kristin King made some great runs up top and we were getting caught by the offsides a little bit but they were both playing well off each other. That's a good thing when your forwards are working well off each other."
As time ticked down, Poplar Bluff picked up the intensity but Sikeston was able to turn back every scoring opportunity.
"Our defense played solid," Long said. "A few times it got a little sketchy back there but it seems like we always have somebody step up and clear it out."
Sikeston will travel to Farmington tonight with games against Jackson, Cape Central and Fredericktown left on the schedule before districts begin on May 15.
"We've been playing really good," Blissett said. "At the beginning of the season we weren't used to playing with each other but we've grown with each other. Whoever is playing us in districts had better be ready."