ST. AMANT – Denham Springs senior Sam Miller has played against St. Amant’s at its home field “The Pit” enough to expect the unexpected.
When the fourth-seeded Gators scored an unconventional goal two minutes into Monday’s Division I state quarterfinal match, Miller saw it happening again.
“It seems to happen every year against this team,” Miller said. “But we didn’t stop fighting until the end. That’s why we put up the results like tying St. Paul and beating other good teams. Because we fought until the end.”
The early goal enabled St. Amant to commit an additional player to an already physical defense, pushing nine players behind the ball, thus clogging passing lanes and making life rather difficult for Denham Springs’ offense to operate.
St. Amant complemented its early-game goal with another in the final six minutes of play for a 2-0 victory over Denham Springs, ending the Yellow Jackets season in the quarterfinal round for third time in five years.
“I can’t be disappointed,” said Miller, one of a dozen seniors for the Yellow Jackets whose high school careers ended. “I’ve grown up with these guys, we played soccer since we were six years old. Anytime we get out on the field and work it’s a good game. I’m proud to be walking off the field with these guys. It was a good season. I would have wished for more.”
It was the second time this season St. Amant scored a 2-0 victory over Denham Springs. It also marked the second time in three years the Gators ended the Yellow Jackets season in The Pit.
“I love those kids over there,” said St. Amant coach Adrian Garcia, who has coached several of Denham Springs’ players through the years with the Baton Rouge Soccer Association. “They’re so dynamic and soccer means so much to them. I’m even more proud of my guys knowing what they’re capable to be able to shut them out in two games.”
The momentum-swing took place before a generous crowd could take their seat.
St. Amant sent a long ball into the box from just inside midfield where it was inadvertently headed backward by a Denham Springs defender.
There was a collision between St. Amant’s Henry Ecker and Denham Springs goalkeeper Jose Ortega, resulting in a loose ball that Ecker played off one bounce and into the upper left corner of the net.
“(A) Collision ball, bounced loose and they finished it,” Denham Springs coach Chris Thorne said. “You don’t plan for that. It just happens.”
Garcia acknowledged a shift in his defense that kept Denham Springs (20-5-1) without a shot until the 28th minute in the first half.
“I think that early goal, by human nature made us drop back,” he said. “Denham just comes at you in waves. I thought the guys did a great job of clearing everything and not giving them any second chances.”
The Yellow Jackets countered with Will Chevalier bringing the ball up the left side of the field, regaining possession and sending a shot wide left.
Collin Turner took a loose ball in stoppage time, dribbled up the field and also pushed a shot attempt – only the second of the half – wide left in stoppage time.
Ortega responded with a solid save, also in stoppage time, after a free kick following a handling call wound up with Ecker taking a shot from close range.
“They packed it back,” Thorne said. “They got a goal. That was it.”
Ortega wound up with three saves after St. Amant (20-3-1) wound up with four shots in each half and a total of seven on goal.
The Yellow Jackets kept Gators top scorer Tyler Bridgewater under wraps with the last serious threat coming midway through the second half when Ortega stopped his shot attempt following a free kick.
St. Amant later lost the services of Bridgewater in the 71st minute when he picked up a second yellow card for a hard foul near midfield, resulting in a red card and his elimination from play, leaving the Gators to play the remainder of the match a man down.
Both teams where whistled for 11 fouls with the Jackets picking up two yellows and the Gators three yellows and a red.
The Yellow Jackets got their best opportunity to tie the game less than a minute later when Elmer Romero fed Turner breaking into the box, but his shot banged off the right post and was cleared.
St. Amant sealed its first state semifinal appearance in the 74th minute when Caleb Cretini headed in Ulrich Gaffney’s low corner kick.
“They packed it back at the end,” Miller said. “We had to slow our game down a little bit and make sure we’re finding the right passes. We started to have some success toward the end. We just couldn’t put one in the back of the net.”
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