DENHAM SPRINGS – Denham Springs’ season got off to a robust 8-0 start that included an opening-game win Nov. 30 in the prestigious COPA Acadiana Tournament at Moore Park in Carencro.
Then torrential rains intervened, soaking all of the facilities natural grass fields and cancelling the rest of the event.
Instead of going back home having played just one game, Denham Springs coach Chris Thorne and St. Amant coach Adrian Garcia, who were scheduled to meet in the tournament, scheduled an impromptu game at Denham Springs’ Yellow Jacket Stadium.
The Gators won 2-0 behind standout Tyler Bridgewater’s two-goal performance, thus unknowingly providing the Yellow Jackets with a source of motivation in case the opportunity presented itself.
More than two months later, that chance has come when fifth-seeded Denham Springs (20-4-1) visits fourth-seeded St. Amant (19-3-1) at 7 p.m. Monday in a Division I state quarterfinal state playoff at The Pit.
The winner faces the winner of Tuesday’s Catholic High-St. Paul’s quarterfinal later in the week in a state semifinal.
Such an appearance would mark the first for either the Yellow Jackets or Gators.
“In some ways I’m glad it worked out the way it did,” Thorne said. “It was a tough loss at the time in the season, but it gives us a little bit of extra motivation. Any time you face somebody you lose to, that little extra bit of edge is there.”
Sophomore midfielder Brennan Amato thought there may have been some benefit in the team’s first setback of the season.
“We were kind of cocky because we were 8-0,” he said. “They played really good. We just had an off day. This time we’re more prepared. Our team has worked really hard and our hearts are set for the right thing.”
Amato’s one team member determined to help this year’s Denham Springs’ 12-member senior class realize the program’s objective of winning the school’s first state championship.
However, in order to reach the summit, Denham Springs has two substantial steps remaining, beginning with St. Amant which has defeated the Yellow Jackets in their last two trips to The Pit.
The Gators, who lost only once at home this season, defeated DSHS 2-0 in 2016 and a year later in a second-round playoff game, scored a golden goal in a 3-2 victory.
DSHS took a 3-1 home win in 2015 and tied the Gators 2-2 in a home game last season.
“I really feel like we can beat them, we want our revenge,” DSHS goalkeeper Jose Ortega said. “I’m ready for this game and to get redemption.”
“Solid battle,” Thorne recalled of the ’17 playoff loss. “It was a great game.”
More of the same is expected.
St. Amant, led by Bridgewater’s 32 goals, has won 15 of its last 16 matches, including a hard-fought 5-2 decision over Baton Rouge High in its playoff opener.
The Gators have registered 14 shutouts this season.
DSHS has won 9 of its last 11, overcoming a late two-match skid against Northshore and Catholic High, to outscore their last two opponents – defending Division II state champion Holy Cross and Captain Shreve, 9-0.
Junior Will Chevalier leads the Jackets with 31 goals and 12 assists, while seniors Daniel Goerges has 15 goals and Collin Turner 10 goals and 11 assists.
Ortega has 53 saves in 26 games since taking over as the team’s regular goalie with 12 shutouts.
“I think our team has come together, we’re focused on what we want and we’re playing with our hearts,” Amato said. “We focused on our goal and that’s to win state this year. We put that (losing streak) past us and do what we do.”
Thorne also believes his team, which is appearing in its third consecutive state quarterfinal, is better prepared to handle such a stage because of its past playoff experience.
“This exact team is experienced in how to win,” he said. “They’re thirsty for it and are driven to get past this round.”
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