West Monroe 1, Sterlington 0
Alex Sanchez poked a cross from Marlon Escoto-Flores into the net in the 68th minute for the only goal of the match as West Monroe nipped Sterlington 1-0 at Panther Field.
The two sides played to a scoreless draw on December 15 at the St. Frederick Tournament and appeared to be headed toward an identical result as the Thursday night's game entered the latter stages.
West Monroe pushed into Sterlington territory, but was unable to get off a shot. As the Panthers attempted to clear, Lanzel Burton steered the ball toward Escoto-Flores, who laid the ball off for Sanchez to put away the easy chance.
Sterlington was awarded two free kicks in the final 10 minutes, neither of which the Panthers were able to convert into a shot on target.
With the victory, the inaugural Parish Cup is now the Rebels' (6--9-3) to lose. Sterlington (10-3-4) had a chance to clinch, but will now need a win over St. Frederick and some help.
"It was a real physical game," Sterlington coach Kyle Keyes said. "I don't think you could find two more evenly-matched teams. We had some chances, they had some chances."
Most of the Panthers' chances came in the first half.
Sterlington out-played the Rebels early on, but the visitors were the more assertive side in the second half.
Although the Panthers controlled the possession time in the opening stages, West Monroe fired the first shot when Jackson Ford's angled attempt from 20 yards out sailed wide of the far post.
West Monroe mounted another attack in the 23rd minute, with goalkeeper Ty Dycus pulling down the second of two headers outside the left post.
The pace began to quicken in the final 10 minutes of the half.
Sterlington's best chances occurred over the next four minutes.
Duke Villarreal's shot, as well as the carom, struck the crossbar before the Panthers were called for a foul on the rebound.
Moments later, West Monroe senior Jacob Womack blasted a free kick over the net from 55 yards out.
With the Panthers back on the offensive, Cooper Grunsky shot wide left of the near post from 14 yards away.
Seconds later, Ethan Treno denied Cooper Reese on a corner kick from the left side.
Continuing to press the action, the Panthers came away empty on two free kicks during extra time.
Treno saved Reese's shot just inside the right post and Grunsky overshot the net from 31 yards out.
Out-shot 5-3 in the second half, the Panthers were unable to place a shot on net as the Rebels' back line of Womack, Garrett May, Michael Meggs and and Parker Henning sealed off the box.
"In the second half, I thought we got away from what we have been trying to do all season," Keyes said. "With (starting keeper) Matthew Husser out, it took one of our forwards (Dycus) away, which hurt us depth-wise."
Dycus caught Burton's drive from the right corner to start the second half.
West Monroe knocked on the door again in the 48th minute with Dycus leaving his feet to deflect Escoto-Flores' well-placed shot to the far (left) side of the net.
Sterlington produced its first moment of menace of the final half when Villarreal shot wide right from distance in the 60th minute.
Five minutes later, Escoto-Flores, the Rebels' skilled freshman, rolled a shot in front of the net from the right side.
Play was stopped momentarily on the Panthers' ensuing possession when Sterlington's Markail Madison was treated for an injury.
When play resumed, Womack blasted the ball across midfield, setting the stage for Sanchez's goal.
NICE CROWD: Keyes would have preferred a more favorable result, but he was pleased with the turnout. The prospect of a competitive game and an ideal night for soccer — the temperature remained around 60 throughout the evening — all added up to the biggest crowd of the season.
"I wish we would have played better than what we did, but I love games like this," Keyes said. "It was a playoff-type game. Nobody you face in the playoffs is going to be a cakewalk. That's why I'm always okay with playing someone of West Monroe's caliber. We just have to learn from this game and move on."
UPCOMING: Though the Panthers no longer control their fate in the Parish Cup, the District 2, Division IV championship remains there for the taking. Sterlington will play its Senior Night game against conference rival Vidalia on Wednesday at 7:15 p.m., before traveling to Brandon (Miss.), Keyes' alma mater, on Friday, Jan. 25, at 6:45 p.m.
Closing out the regular season, the Panthers visit St. Frederick on Monday, Jan. 28 in a fixture that will likely have district championship implications.
LADY PANTHERS: Sterlington senior defender Gray Grunsky was named Ouachita Parish's Student of the Year as the Ouachita Parish School Board held its annual scholar's banquet Thursday afternoon. ... The Lady Panthers defeated Wossman 14-0 Thursday evening. Making a quick turn-around, the Lady Panthers play at Minden on Friday at 6 p.m.
WM ................................... SHS
11 .......... Shots ................... 10
3 ............ Shots on target .... 4
2 ............ Corner kicks ........ 2
0 ............ Offsides ............... 0
7 ............ Fouls ................... 11
0 ............ Yellow cards ....... 1