Spartans’ second half seals state bid

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ORANGE PARK – St. Johns Country Day School girls soccer may want to keep permanent hotel rooms in the Deland area after the Lady Spartans earned an eighth straight bid for a state soccer title on Friday with a 4-0 win over International Community in the Class 2A state semifinals.

“They are all different,” said St. Johns coach Mike Pickett, referring to the feel of going to another state championship game. “This team is very inexperience even though we have a lot of juniors, but there are a lot of new faces. This is a new level for some of the kids on this team.”

Pickett’s lone senior is midfielder Lindsay Sabo.

St. Johns (23-1), the top seed of region 1-2A, will venture to Deland’s Spec Martin Stadium to face the number one seed out of region 3-2A, Shorecrest Prep (14-3-2) on Wed., Feb. 26 at 1 p.m.. Shorecrest, located in St. Petersburg, defeated Westminster Academy, the top seed of region 4-2A, 3-1 to advance to the final. St. Johns defeated Shorecrest 4-0 in 2007 in the Class 2A final.

In 2006, Shorecrest lost to American Heritage 5-0 in the 2A final.

Shorecrest’s last playoff appearance was a region finals loss to Evangelical Christian in 2017 in Class 1A with St. Johns beating Evangelical 5-0 in that state semifinal before beating Lakeland Christian 2-0 in the final.

Shorecrest has a long history of playoff appearances dating back to 2002 with the two finals’ appearance and the region final the furthest they have gone in the playoffs.

St Johns, on the flip side of the equation, has simply dominated both Class 1A and Class 2A for more than two decades under Pickett’s tutelage with this championship game a possible 11th state title. St. Johns last lost in 2010 in double overtime to American Heritage (Delray Beach). Pickett has titles dating as far back as 2005 with his first finals loss in 2004, a 1-0 match to American Heritage (Delray Beach). Against International, nicknamed the Comets, St. Johns scored first off a crossing pass from deep in the Comets corner after a pass from Mia Sadler found no one in front of the goal before Paige Crews picked up the ball in the corner.

Crews returned the ball with a loft over top and found Natalie Wilson and Lauryn Mateo in front of the goal for a short scramble before Mateo put the ball in the net at 21 minutes. The score stayed at 1-0 past the first water break that came after Crews put a left foot shot over the goal.

Up to the halftime break, St. Johns had a handful of corner kicks and deep throw-ins, but failed to further the 1-0 score.

“We had plenty of opportunities in the first half, by far, but we were just missing the mark,” said Pickett. “In the second half, we calmed down a bit and just executed our plays.”

Part of Pickett’s offensive plan relies on the long throw-ins by junior Maddy Moody, a defender, who jogs to most of the Spartan throw-ins from beyond mifield.

“After Peyton Walton graduated and did such a great job with her long throw-ins, I worked all summer to make mine better,” said Moody, who, ironically, scored the lone goal for the Spartans state title last year off a late (throw-in  from Walton) that Moody headed in. “I’d rather be in front to head the goal in, but whatever the team needs.”

Pickett noted that Deland’s field is slightly smaller than normal and that throw-ins will be a key weapon.

“Her throws will be a major factor for us,” said Pickett. “Again, like tonight, we have to get that second ball in the net.”

In the first five minutes of the second half, St. Johns got deep three times with Mateo moving the ball quickly down the Comet sideline with the Spartan second goal coming after a Moody throw-in near the International 40 that Ellie Rosenau shot just off the goal to create a corner kick for Julia Boaventura. Boaventura’s corner got to Crews’ header, but missed to create a second corner kick; this time from Crews.

Moody got her head on the ball, but the ball got ejected out to Mateo who punched in her second goal for a 2-0 lead at 31:44.

“I tell them to think that they are going to get the ball in front of the net and score off those plays,” said Pickett, noting that St. Johns had 12-13 corner kicks in the second half versus five in the first. “That (corner kicks) puts a lot more pressure on their defense. Our second half was much better at finishing.” Just a minute later, Boaventura caught a missed header by Mateo off another Moody throw-in in front of the Comet goal with her right foot and made a wicked spin move before firing the ball into the net with her left foot putting

Goal four came from Kamryn Towers on a rush from the opposite side of the Spartans’ fan section to end the game at 4-0 with 26:24 left on the clock.

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