St. Al’s season ends in North State

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 7, 2002

[02/06/02]Scoring chances fell into St. Aloysius’ lap as steadily as the rain that turned Balzli Field into a quagmire Tuesday night, but the Flashes found only more frustration with each passing shot.

Madison-St. Joe, meanwhile, found a pot of gold and a Class 1A-2A-3A North State championship at the end of a rainbow that arched through the gloom.

John Spencer lifted a high shot just over the hand of St. Al goalkeeper Andy Gough with about six minutes to play, giving St. Joe a 4-3 win and a trip to Saturday’s state title game and ending St. Al’s season.

“It’s hard to lose this one. I really wanted it and the team really wanted it. They played their hearts out. Of course we’re all disappointed. We thought it was our year, but it’s not,” St. Al coach Shirley Agostinelli said. “The good lord does things for a reason. We don’t know that reason is yet, but it wasn’t our year. Their year will come.”

St. Al (16-3) got two goals from Michael Head and two assists from Michael Strickland, and outshot St. Joe, 20-17. But the Flashes also missed numerous opportunities close to the goal and a penalty kick early in the second half that would have given them the lead.

In one two-minute stretch with about 16 minutes to play in the first half, the Flashes missed or had blocked five shots from within 10 feet of the net. During one flurry, a St. Joe defender tried to clear the ball and hit his own goalpost, but no Flashes were close enough to knock in the rebound.

“The rain hurt us bad. I think on a dry field, we had them,” said St. Al’s Beau Theobald, who had an assist on the Flashes’ first goal. “But you can blame a lot of missed things on the rain. They got the breaks and we didn’t.”

St. Al’s biggest miss came late in the game, when Head missed what would have been the go-ahead goal by inches.

“It missed by about 4 inches,” Head said, holding his hands that far apart.

The Bruins got a goal kick and pushed the ball up the field. Spencer dribbled up the left side, and lifted a shot toward Gough. Gough jumped high for the ball, but it barely cleared his outstretched hand and landed in the back of the net to give St. Joe (15-6) a 4-3 lead.

“I had a breakaway and the guy started catching up with me, so I cut in and kicked it with my left foot,” Spencer said. “It was all I could do, because it was so cold and wet, I couldn’t dribble much because there were so many puddles back down there. I just had to take the shot and get it off.”

The Flashes only managed to get one good push in the last five minutes, and couldn’t get a quality shot. St. Joe’s defense kept St. Al from generating any more chances, and the Bruins stalled on the offensive end with a series of corner kicks that were tapped to teammates standing just a few feet away.

The Bruin who received the ball then guarded it from any St. Al defenders who approached, until it was finally knocked out of bounds. St. Joe used the tactic three straight times, burning most of the final minute off the clock.

“That was smart soccer. I think they were killing the clock because they were worn out, and I would have done the same thing,” Agostinelli said.

When the final whistle blew, both teams hurried off the field to find refuge from the rain and 30-degree temperatures. But while St. Joe made plans for Saturday morning’s match with West Lauderdale or Clarkdale, the Flashes were left to think about what might have been.

St. Al, which reached the South State title game last season, will lose five starters off of this team.

“I think in the years to come St. Al soccer will be highly recognized,” Agostinelli said. “We’re going to lose five important starters, but we’ve got some good soccer players coming up to fill their spots. They will do fine.”

The weather made life miserable for everyone on the field, but it seemed to affect the defensive players the worst.

The defenders struggled to find footing on clearing attempts and while trying to prevent breakaways, leading to numerous scoring opportunities for both sides and four goals in the first half.

Head took a perfect cross from John Theobald and knocked it into the low right corner of the net to give St. Al a 1-0 lead eight minutes into the game, but the Flashes missed three chances to extend the lead on close shots in the next five minutes.

St. Joe finally regrouped and mounted an assault on Gough a few minutes later, peppering the St. Al keeper with six shots in a five-minute span. Tripp Harkins finally got one past Gough during a flurry in front of the net, tying the game with about 23 minutes to play in the half.

The Flashes bounced back, taking a 2-1 lead on Joe Theobald’s header with 14 minutes to play, but St. Joe’s Henery Lawrence headed in a corner kick from Spencer to tie the game again six minutes later.

The second half started in the same wild fashion.

A St. Joe player beat Gough with a shot six minutes into the half, but the ball was slowed by the mud and stopped inches in front of the goal line. David Yokum, who was trailing the play, came along and knocked it in to give St. Joe its first lead of the game, 3-2.

“The field was so terrible the ball just stopped,” Gough said, adding that he thought the ball had gone in the net after the initial shot.

St. Joe’s lead was short-lived, however. Just two minutes later, Head booted in a throw-in from Strickland to tie the game. Four minutes after that, Beau Theobald was taken down in the goal box on a breakaway and the Flashes were awarded a penalty kick.

Head took the shot, but lined it right into the gut of St. Joe goalie Chris Taylor. Head fell as he tried to gather in the rebound, another St. Al player had a shot blocked as the scramble intensified, and a third missed wide to the right, resulting in a goal kick for St. Joe.

Both defenses finally settled in after that, and neither team threatened until the last few minutes.

“In wet conditions like this they know that once any shot’s taken to get back by the goalkeeper and do their best on defense and play the ball all the time,” St. Joe assistant coach Dwayne Demmin said. “I thought they did a very good job in terms of doing that.”