PERKINSTON, Miss. — No. 12 Pearl River found out the hard way the last time they were at Bary Thrash Field that it doesn't matter who scores first; but who finishes best.
The Wildcats conceded an early goal Saturday but rallied past host No. 6 Gulf Coast 3-2 to advance to the MACCC/Region 23 Tournament finals.
PRCC will play the winner of Hinds and Jones College at 3 p.m. Sunday. The match will be broadcast at Livestream.com/MGCCCBulldogs.
"This is probably the closest one we've had with them. Even though we came out on top this time I think we had fewer opportunities," Pearl River coach Drew Gallant said. "We scored some great goals across the board. Andre (Nicholson), Mohamed (Diallo) and Retsin (Kabambala) do things a little different.
"We had to pull out all the stops today."
The Bulldogs (11-3 overall) shocked PRCC (12-3) in the fourth minute, scoring on the break.
Pearl River evened the score 1-1 in the 11th minute after the Bulldogs were dinged for a hand ball in the box. Diallo (Gulfport) immediately stepped up to the spot and roofed his kick.
Gulf Coast jumped back ahead in the 15th minute, scoring back door off of a corner kick.
After much of the remainder of the first half was played in mid field, the Wildcats drew even in the 45th minute. Dustin Cuevas (Kiln; Hancock) won a 50-50 ball near midfield and found Kabambala (Mobile, Ala.; Murphy) at the top of the box. The freshman, who had been moved up top in the formation, calmly spun and knuckled a ball past the MGCCC keeper.
"Even though Retsin never plays up top, you can see it in him that he does a good job as a player with his back to goal," Gallant said. "The ball went straight into him. He turned on the first touch and hit it without taking a look. That just shows the level of player he is with his field awareness."
Five minutes into the second half the Wildcats went ahead for good. Off of a PRCC corner, Max Matsenbaugh (Bay St. Louis; St. Stanislaus) sent a ball into the box. The pass was partially cleared by the Bulldogs — but landed at Nicholson's (Kingston, Jamaica; Clarendon College) feet. The Jamaican let the ball bounce and one-timed the shot past the diving MGCCC keeper with his left foot.
"We've been working on volleys like that and he actually hits it. Just an incredible play from Andre," Gallant said. "It was one of those moments where you feel like it's meant to be. When you score a goal like that to go ahead you know it's finally coming for us."
With the lead, the Wildcats avoided allowing history to repeat itself. Instead of bunkering, the Wildcats had several more opportunities down field, but, perhaps most importantly, smothered MGCCC's attack to secure the victory.
"We went a little different this time tactically to finish out the game. The boys saw the difference," Gallant said. "You can't just give up and I think we had a little quit in us last time. The big coaching point came last time from our assistant Bobby (Picchi), about being a man and carrying yourself as a team after a loss. There was a lot of individualism (after the last loss) and I think you saw today that there wasn't any of that individual stuff."
With the win, the Wildcats are playing for their first championship since 2017.
BY: Patrick Ochs
Pearl River Community College
Director of Marketing & Communications