DENHAM SPRINGS – Little had he realized the achievement when Denham Springs High’s Brennan Amato left the field Friday at Yellow Jackets Stadium and his team holding a commanding five-goal halftime lead.
It may have seemed like a blur that Amato recorded his first career hat trick because that’s the pace at which the junior midfielder scored his team’s final three goals of the half, covering a seven-minute span, en route to a 9-1 mercy-rule victory over Walker in the District 3-I opener for both teams.
“I was surprised,” said Amato, who also had an assist. “I didn’t think I was going to score that many goals.”
The match was stopped in the 56th minute when Corey Bush took Axel Agurcia’s pass from across the width of the field to the right, made a move inside Walker’s defense and scored into the right corner – sealing his team’s first mercy-rule (eight goals) victory of the season.
Following Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at Division IV power Newman, finishing shot attempts certainly became a team-wide emphasis after sixth-ranked Denham Springs squandered several prime scoring opportunities.
That wasn’t the case with the Yellow Jackets (15-6, 1-0) scoring five goals and taking advantage of an own goal in the first half in which all 13 shots they attempted were on goal.
“First half (Wednesday) we probably played our best soccer all year,” Denham Springs coach Chris Thorne said of his team which had a nine-match win streak snapped by Newman. “We just couldn’t finish; point-blank balls. It should have been 4-0 at halftime. We had 15 good looks inside the six (yard box) and couldn’t finish.
“We had the ball on the feet of people we want to shoot and just couldn’t finish,” Thorne said. “Then I think we got in our own heads and got frustrated the second half and gave up two cheap goals. I was disappointed in our lack of finishing shots and how we finished the game.”
Denham Springs’ 1-0 lead was the result of an own goal on a corner kick three minutes into the match. That became 2-0 when Axel Agurcia began what turned into a productive outing for the sophomore forward, who scored twice and had three assists.
Agurcia took a pass from Will Chevalier, flipped the ball behind his back to his right foot and scored on a shot from inside the penalty box in the 21st minute.
Walker (7-4-2, 0-2), which opened Tuesday with an 8-0 loss to Catholic High, got back within 2-1 in the 24th minute when the Wildcats were awarded a free kick after Denham Springs goalkeeper Tyler Burkett was ruled to have handled a ball outside of the penalty area.
Evan Kimbel directed his shot from just inside the penalty area, which deflected off Amato in the Yellow Jackets wall of defenders and went into the goal.
“We were actually in it for a bit, but the mistakes got us,” Walker coach Todd Wall said. “We’ve got a young group, not a whole bunch of depth on the bench. We just asked the boys to come out and play hard. You could see they did.”
Walker’s momentum was short-lived when Agurcia assisted Gael Perez on a goal in the 26th minute which was a precursor to Amato’s personal highlight reel to that put the match out of reach by halftime.
Amato, who was assisted by Agurcia, scored on a 20-yard kick into the right, upper corner of the net, then showed off his dribbling skills on the next two attempts, where he got into the heart of Walker’s defense in the middle of the penalty area and delivered a pair of goals from 10 yards out.
“We needed to come out with more intensity, a stronger will,” Amato said. “I think we worked hard, and this game showed with that result.”
Burkett wound up with two saves against a Walker offense that generated two shots on goal in the shortened second half.
Denham Springs scored on three of its four shots in the second half with Will Chevalier bending a 23-yard free kick around a wall of defenders in the 48th minute followed by goals from Agurcia in the 53rd minute – courtesy of an assist from Amato – and Bush to close out the match.
“Our concentration was to finish shots,” Thorne said. “We knew we were going to get them. We wanted to finish them and finish them early and take care of business and we did that.”