WATSON – Don’t look know but Live Oak’s boys soccer team is trending in a direction that’s conducive toward reaching a program milestone.
The Eagles have never hosted a home state playoff game, but after Saturday’s 1-0 victory over De La Salle, they certainly took a big step toward that objective with their season-high fourth consecutive victory.
“Wins like this get us closer to that,” Live Oak coach Zach Miller said. “It’s been a stated goal for three years here, to be the first boys soccer team to host a playoff game. We’ve been close a couple of times. We can taste it.”
Both Live Oak (10-9-3) and De La Salle (4-11-7) of New Orleans are Division II staples that entered their non-district game with unofficial power ratings of No. 15 and 19, respectively.
The top 16 teams in each division secure home playoff games for the first round.
It’s a position Live Oak has flirted with in the past, twice having been seeded 17th and once 18th.
“We graduated 11 (seniors) last year and two the year before,” Miller said. “It seems like the chatter is that it’s going to be hard to replicate what last year’s team did. I’ve told them that was hogwash. I told them to get to work because they have a capability of doing something all those guys that are playing in college never did. It’s given them something to play for and they’ve seemed to have taken it to heart.”
Live Oak relied on solid defensive play throughout and goalkeeping from Garret Ferris to register the team’s seventh shutout of the season and third in four games.
The Eagles picked up the only goal they needed in the waning moments when Jackson Bryant tapped in a rebound shot in the 72nd minute to provide the game-winning margin.
“I felt like we dominated in the second half and really didn’t give them any room to breathe,” Miller said. “The only disappointment is that we didn’t put more in and help us relax a little bit. That was closer than it needed to be.”
Live Oak only permitted only one shot on goal in the second half. Ferris had eight of his nine saves in the opening half.
“It’s nice to depend on the back line to keep you safe and I cover for them as well,” Ferris said. “Whenever you’ve got a group of seniors like this it’s easy to manage. It’s thrilling at the end because you’ve got your nerves rattled. You’ve got to be ready all the time and not let it get to you.”
Live Oak’s Jackson Earle came within a whisker of breaking the deadlock before the Eagles snapped the scoreless tie a minute later.
Earle sent a long cross from outside the box that clipped the top of the crossbar and caromed out of play.
The Eagles regained possession and Singh Darshandeep ripped a head-on shot from about 20 yards out that De La Salle goalkeeper Grant Gebo, who went to his knees for the save, couldn’t quite secure and Bryant in position to clean it up.
“They had a fast back line, so it was hard to get past them,” Bryant said. “I noticed sometimes that when we would shoot their keeper would drop it, so I felt like if we followed up eventually, we would score and that’s what happened.”
Miller credited a late first-half adjustment to create more offense, something that was evident as the match wore on with the Eagles outshooting the Cavaliers 6-1 in the second half.
De La Salle nearly took the lead in the first minute of play after a morning rain had subsided and clouds started to give way to sunshine.
Ferris was able to thwart one of the Cavaliers best scoring chances, taking in a header by Nicholas Perrin off a corner kick.
Ethan Miller’s free kick from just inside midfield one-hopped into Ferris’ hands in the 19th minute and Tyler Mitchell worked his way into the box but shot wide of the goal in the 21st minute.
De La Salle, which had 10 shots on goal in the first half, had two other free kicks that resulted in saves from Ferris, including a 25-yard shot from Marvin Nunez in the 29th minute. The Cavaliers closed the half with a near miss when Miller’s 30-yard shot hit the crossbar just before the halftime whistle.
“In the first half they gave us some trouble, so we switched tactics a little,” Miller said. “We did that halfway through the first half. That seemed to help, we got into our rhythm a little bit, but it didn’t show until the second half.”
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