Gators headed to first ever state semifinal appearance

Kyle Riviere
Caleb Cretini celebrates after scoring the game-clinching goal in St. Amant's 2-0 win over Denham Springs. Photo by Kyle Riviere.

The third time's a charm.

St. Amant had reached the state quarterfinals two years in a row, and both times, they were dealt defeat. Hosting a quarterfinal game against Denham Springs on Monday night, they made sure the streak didn't reach three.

Instead, the Gators blanked the Yellow Jackets to make history. It marked the first time the program has ever reached the state semifinals.

"It's a tribute to what these kids have done," St. Amant head coach Adrian Garcia said. "Our motto all season has been 'rise above.' We've trained; we've done everything but win this game. They broke through this time, and now, we get to sit back and see who we play and work on a new game plan moving forward."

St. Amant played Denham Springs during the regular season. They won that matchup, 2-0. History repeated itself on Monday night.

The Gators scored their first goal three minutes into the game, and then put it away with a goal at the 75th minute to earn another 2-0 win.

In the third minute, Henry Ecker chased down a pass that landed inside the box. Denham Springs goalkeeper Jose Ortega charged forward to snatch the ball, but he missed. It left the goal wide open, and Ecker took advantage.

His shot into the open net gave the Gators an early 1-0 lead.

From there, both defenses dominated. In the first 20 minutes, each team had just one shot on goal.

St. Amant had a few chances to extend their advantage late in the half.

Tyler Bridgewater got out ahead of Denham Springs defenders on two separate occasions, but one of his shots was saved by Ortega, and the other went just over the top bar.

In the closing moments of the half, Ecker got right in front of the Yellow Jacket net, but Ortega came up with another great save.

The great defense continued deep into the second half, and Denham Springs got a big break at the 70th minute when Bridgewater was given a red card.

Just one minute after he left the field, Collin Turner had a great shot at the St. Amant goal, but it hit the sidebar.

The game remained at 1-0 until the 75th minute. There, Ulrich Gaffney set up Caleb Cretini perfectly with a beautiful corner kick. Cretini slashed in and finished at the goal for the score to put the game away with a 2-0 lead.

St. Amant was able to limit Denham Springs to 12 shots. They got four of those in the final moments of the game.

"You don't ever expect to not have that much of the ball, but we got that early goal and human nature really dropped in," Garcia said. "We haven't really practiced against that style of play before. That's why soccer is such a great sport. The players can figure it out on the field; I can't call a timeout and figure it out for them. They did it on the field.

"We have great leaders like Caleb Cretini and David Barbera. And Tyler Bridgewater up top is so dangerous. He forced them to keep more guys back than they wanted."

In the semifinal game, the Gators will either host eighth-seeded Catholic or hit the road to face top-seeded St. Paul's. St. Amant has not played either team this season.

In the last two seasons, the Gators had superstar players like Angelo Fabricio and Briggs Bourgeois, but it's this team that has finally broken through and made the semifinals.

"Senior leadership makes this team special--that and the love they have for each other," Garcia said. "They have no quit; they always want to battle. They wanted to make history tonight. It's a great group, and I'm excited for the next game."