As the Sterlington Panthers await their next opponent, their preseason goals no longer seem so far-fetched.
Coach Kyle Keyes set some high goals for the Sterlington Panthers prior to their first season of playoff eligibility. At least they seemed pretty high at the time.
As they await the quarterfinal round of the Division IV soccer playoffs, the Panthers have already achieved more than their coach dared to hope for.
"I said at the beginning of the year that our goal was to host and win a playoff game," Keyes said.
Check and check.
Bolstered by Landon Green's triple, the No. 10-seeded Panthers knocked off No. 23 Calvary Baptist 3-1 in their inaugural postseason fixture.
Monday evening in Baton Rouge, the Panthers squeaked out a 1-0 second round result over Dunham.
"We have exceeded exceeded all expectations," Keyes said. "We're at lagniappe now, and we're going to see how far we can ride it out."
Monday's game was scoreless until Green scored his fourth goal of the playoffs in the 70th minute.
"It was a deadlock game the whole way," Keyes said. "We just got a lucky break in the 70th minute, and Landon Green put it away. We packed it in (defensively) and rode it out the last 10 minutes for the win."
Obviously, Green has been clutch in the playoffs.
"I have no complaints about that kid," Keyes said of Green. "Landon is definitely one of our team leaders. He's team-oriented. He's not about padding his stats. He just wants to win. He's all about doing everything he can to help his teammates."
While Green has provided the offense, right back Fox Bryan, right center back Cooper Reese, left center back Connor White and left backs Sam Gilbert and Ty Dycus have solidified the defense.
"We finally figured out the back four," Keyes said. "They have been kicking some butt."
Bryan has been the team's biggest surprise.
"Fox Bryan is a first-year player, who just came out of the wood work. He's been killing it," Keyes said.
Sterlington's defense started to jell when Connor White moved to the back.
"Connor White used to be our right outside midfielder," Keyes said. "We experimented with him on defense in a tournament, and he's actually one of our shutdown defenders now. He's kind of our head-hunter guy.
From Key's perspective, the best part about the Panthers' playoff run is that virtually the entire team will be back next year. Goalkeeper Chandler Jones, the team's lone senior, has raised his level of play in the two postseason wins.
"We're doing this for Chandler," Keyes said. "Chandler's not ready to give up high school sports yet. He had his best game of the season against Dunham."
Jones was credited with 15 saves against Dunham.
"Out of those 15 saves, 13 of them were hard saves," Keyes said. "That's the best I've seen Chandler play."
Like the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, the Panthers continue to defy the odds. They will likely be regarded as the underdog in their next match, as well.
"We are underdogs and we like being underdogs," Keyes said. "I've been telling the guys all year that just because somebody is the higher-ranked team, it doesn't mean they are better than you. That's just somebody's opinion."
Keyes can see his message starting to sink in.
"I tell them to always go into the game with the mentality that they are the best team in the state," Keyes said. "They are starting to believe it, which is obviously a step in the right direction."
As the quarterfinals approach, it may be time for the Panthers to reevaluate their preseason goals.