Episcopal 8, Sterlington 0
Advancing to the state quarterfinals in their first year of eligibility is a tribute to how far Sterlington's boys soccer program has progressed in a short length of time. Moreover, Monday's game against No. 2 seed Baton Rouge Episcopal showed how far the upstart Panthers still have to go.
Eliott Reimann's triple and Chima Mbagwu's double helped exert the Knights (20-3-5) into the semifinals with an 8-0 mercy rule victory over the Panthers on Monday at Panther Field.
Once Logan Robertson found the net from 20 yards out in the eighth minute, the outcome was never in doubt.
Chima Mbagwu's rebound goal six minutes later put the Knights up 2-0.
Sterlington was finally able to mount a mild threat in the 24th minute when Ty Dycus' free kick was batted away by Episcopal keeper Anders Melton.
Out-shot 20-2 through the first 40 minutes, the Panthers were fortunate to be trailing just 2-0 at the break.
Sterlington was indebted to keeper Chandler Jones, who thwarted a number of chances to keep the score respectable at the halfway point.
"Chandler fought hard," coach Kyle Keyes said of the Panthers' lone senior. "Don't be fooled by the score. Some of those saves, he shouldn't have been able to make."
Chima Mbagwu's shot hit the right post and caromed all the way to the left post without crossing the line in the 31st minute.
Five minutes later, Jones stopped Reimann's powerful blast from the left angle off of a corner kick.
Sterlington showed signs of coming to life offensively in the closing minutes of the half.
Landon Green hooked a penalty kick from 26 yards out just wide of the left post, and Melton later made a routine save in stoppage time.
Things came completly unraveled for the Panthers in the second half.
Reimann scored his first goal from close range just three minutes in after the Panthers were unable to clear.
Fouled in the box, Reimann converted a 12-yard penalty kick as the Knights doubled their lead to 4-0.
It was all but over.
"We could have packed it in defensively and probably kept it 4-0, but we tried to get some offense going," Keyes said. "When you go offense, it usually backfires on you."
Even with the emphasis on offense, the Panthers were not able to get off a shot in the second half.
On the rare occasions the hosts were able to push into the midfield area, they were instantly repelled by midfielders Grant Bergeron and Jack Morganti, and the back line of Tochi Mbagwu, Garrett Spring, Frank Poche and Cole Carmouche.
Goals by Chima Mbagwu, Jeff Turnley, Reimann and Andrew Gould brought the final to 8-0 with just over two minutes remaining.
While their presence would not have swayed the result, the Panthers were dealt a blow by the absence of Duke Villarreal, Oren Keller and Mathew Husser due to seasonal illnesses. Additionally, Landon Green and Blake Stevens were not at full strength following bouts with the flu.
"I wish we could have played them at full strength, but that's how it unfolded," Keyes said. "The good part is we were able to see what a top-tier team looks like. Those boys are good. Hats off to them."
Returning the entire team with the exception of Jones in net, the Panthers (15-9-2) have poured a solid foundation for next year. Sterlington achieved or exceeded all of its major preseason objectives by winning two playoff games, hosting two playoff games and placing second in district.
"I am really pleased with what we accomplished as a first-year program," Keyes said. "At the beginning of the year, we wanted to finish in the top two in district, host a playoff game and win a playoff game. We accomplished every goal. I'm proud to be their coach. This is the best group of athletes and soccer players I have ever coached. They fought hard every game this season.
"Now we can look ahead to the summer. It's nice to have the same team two years in a row. I'm also looking forward to working with the guys coming up from the middle school."