ORANGE PARK – Steel sharpens steel was the thought St. John’s Country Day Spartans Head Coach Mike Pickett had for scheduling the 4A-Creekside Knights as their last regular season game.
“This is going to be the playoffs,” said Pickett, who embarks on a tenuous journey to take a fairly young and fresh-faced team into the Class 1A playoffs that the Spartans have dominated for the past seven years with seven titles. “That’s why I schedule this team. Much bigger team, much more athletic than us, that’s why I schedule them the last game of the season.”
Note: St. Johns, the seven time defending Class 1A champions, defeated Christ’s Church Academy 8-0 in their district tournament opener and will host St. Joseph on Tues., Jan. 29 in the district final. St. Johns boys defeated University Christian 3-0 with two goals from Matthew Stratton and will play Tues., Jan. 29 against Christ’s Church Academy, the defending district champions and region semifinalist.
The Creekside game provided Pickett much needed data to ensure he is ready for post-season as the Spartans quickly got to 2-0, then gave up the single goal on the evening. Once tested, his team drove two more home before the half to go into post-season Friday night with a confident 4-1 Senior night victory against a very physical Creekside team.
“I like where we’re at,” said Pickett afterward.
Within the first minute, the home crowd knew this was going to be a bare knuckles type fight as the contact started immediately. Several times the referee would pull players aside and provide warnings. It didn’t take the Spartans five minutes and they found a chink in the Knights armor as Creekside attempted a clear that was broken up.
St. Johns forward Paige Crews stole the ball and fed Kamy Loustau for the first goal at 35:16.
Not four minutes later, Loustau would rack up number two as the Knights keeper made a save, but couldn’t hold on to the ball. Loustau took a near no angle shot just inside the end line, hooked the ball around the keeper and cashed in goal number two for the Spartans.
Four minutes before the water break, Creekside was awarded a kick as one of the Spartans made a blocking error.
“Unfortunately, we made a bad foul,” said Pickett. “My kid tackled with the wrong foot and was late getting there to press her. It was a good shot. I don’t know too many girl keepers that could have saved that.” The kick sailed just out of the reach of the defender’s heads and Spartan’s keeper Maddie Wilkes hands. Even with Wilkes climbing the ladder, the ball was perfectly placed just under the crossbar to cut the lead in half. The jubilation for the Knights would only last three minutes as this time Loustau would find Kamryn Towers in the open who blasted the ball past the Knights once again. The final dagger to the Knights would come just a minute and change after the water break as Loustau again proved why she is the team’s captain. Off a corner throw-in, Loustau positioned herself in front and nudged the ball past the Knights keeper for the final goal of the evening. The entire second half remained scoreless on both sides, but it wasn’t for not trying.
“To give Creekside credit, they came out in the second half and pressed us,” said Pickett. “They moved their formation forward. We didn’t do a good enough job of just connecting one or two passes. Credit to them for changing the game.”
With the playoffs set to start Fri., Jan. 25 with St. Johns hosting district 2-1A as the top seed, Pickett kept most of his starting lineup in as they continued to work on their plays and positioning ensuring his team is ready for another run.
“We’re a small team but I’m proud of my kids for digging in and fighting,” said Pickett. “It wasn’t pretty in the second half, but I’m proud of the way they fought and played.”
In other districts, Fleming Island’s girls travel to Nease for district 4-4A semifinals on Tues., Jan. 29, Fleming Island’s boys take on Oakleaf in district 4-4A semifinals on Wed., Jan. 30, Clay High’s girls soccer played Menendez in district 4-3A at Ponte Vedra on Mon., Jan. 28, Keystone Heights girls soccer travel to Santa Fe for district 4-5A second rounds and Keystone Heights’ boys soccer hosts Interlachen in district 4-5A round two games on Mon., Jan. 28.