St. Al healthy, ready to go vs. ailing Wildcats

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 29, 2002

[01/29/02]Since winning the Division 4 title last week, the St. Aloysius Flashes have known they’ll host a first-round playoff game tonight.

Who they’d play has been a mystery.

Initial reports said Senatobia. Another had West Lauderdale. Finally, Cleveland (10-7) sneaked into the playoffs with a rain-delayed, shootout win over Greenville-St. Joe on Saturday to earn the right to come to Balzli Field at 6 p.m. to play St. Al (13-2).

“We just came out and practiced … ,” St. Al coach Shirley Agostinelli said of her team’s approach to preparing for tonight’s game. “There’s not much preparing you can do this time of year anyway. Within five minutes of playing, my team will know what to do, who they’ll have to mark and everything else.”

The teams haven’t met in several years, and are strangers to each other. None of the current Flashes were on the team for the last meeting, leaving only comparisons against common opponents to determine a scouting report.

“(Cleveland) lost to Greenville-St. Joe, which we beat 6-1. I’m not trying to sound cocky, but if we play our game, we should win,” St. Al goalkeeper Andy Gough said.

The Flashes have some room for confidence this season, even against a 3A school. Unlike last season, when they seemingly came out of nowhere to advance to the South State title game, the Flashes have steamrolled opponents this year and have been a favorite to advance deep into the playoffs.

St. Al outscored opponents 76-14 during the regular season, further strengthening a claim as one of the top teams in Class 1A. The expectations work both ways, however, creating pressure to advance at least as far as they did last season.

With six key starters set to graduate in May, there is also a sense of urgency, Gough said.

“If we don’t win a state championship, it’s considered a failure. We’re not going to be as strong next year. We’re losing some pretty key players,” Gough said.

For this go-round, however, they’re all still there and all finally healthy. Gough, who suffered two knee injuries this season, said he’s “not 100 percent, but good enough,” and Beau Theobald and Michael Head, who also nursed injuries late in the season, are also healthy.

That has Head, who led the Flashes with 27 goals this season, as confident as Gough about advancing to the second round.

“It’s a little less pressure than last year. We feel more confident, more relaxed,” Head said. “If we stick to our game and play with some tenacity, the game’s ours.”

Cleveland, on the other hand, is banged up coming into the game. Cleveland coach Steve Wies said two starting defenders, Lewis Boyd and Chris Parker, will miss tonight’s game with injuries and several other starters are hobbled.

Wies added that his team has had problems playing together, which could make the injuries even more crucial.

“We can’t afford to make mistakes,” Wies said. “We’ve had problems all year playing as a unit. We tend to play as 10 individuals rather than as a unit.”