The St. Cloud Bulldogs, 12-5-1 on the season, will be the number one seed in Class 6A, District 9 as the post-season for high school boys soccer begins this week.
Led by junior striker Fabrizio Lucia (17 goals), and stellar goal tending of Noah Craig and Kevin Abreau, the Bulldogs average more than three goals a game and have allowed just 1.2 goals per game. The team finished fourth in the Orange Belt Conference Championship, losing a 1-1 decision to Celebration in penalty kicks in the third place game.
The Bulldogs won four of their final five games, including an 8-1 thrashing of Santa Fe Catholic in the regular season finale. St. Cloud went 3-1 against district competition this year.
The district features county schools Tohopekaliga, Poinciana and Liberty. The fourth-seeded Tigers (3-15-1) host fifth seeded Poinciana (7-10) on Monday; while Liberty (3-9-0) plays at East River (8-11-3) in the other quarterfinal game. Both contests are slated for Monday. As top seed, St. Cloud will host the winner of the Tohopekaliga-Liberty game in a district semifinal on Wednesday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m.
Although they won 10 games this season, the Celebration Storm will find itself a fourth seed with Class 7A, District 6 playoffs begin. The Storm (10-4-2) will host fifth seeded Osceola (9-8-2) in Saturday’s quarterfinal.
Storm Head Coach Chad Boudreaux said the district playoffs will be a heated competition.
“We have one of the hardest districts in the state with four teams ranked in the top 100,” Boudreaux said. “According to the current rankings, we should be able to advance three teams, but the district winner is the only one that is guaranteed a spot. It is going to be really intense.”
In order to make a run, Boudreaux believes his team will have to stay focused.
“Playoff games are just different. The intensity level is always kicked up a notch and the pressure exists not to make a mistake. One second of letdown could make or break your season,” he said. “The question remains is everyone on the roster willing to go the extra mile? Are they willing to make the runs to get open or giving that extra effort to get back on defense?”
The winner of the Storm – Osceola game will travel to Davenport Ridge for the district semifinal. Ridge is 12-3-1 this season. Cypress Creek is the top seed in the district with an 11-3-2 mark and they will wait for the winner of the Haines City – Freedom matchup in the other semifinal.
Harmony (11-3-5) is also involved in a difficult district and will be the third seed in Class 6A – District 12 with traditional soccer powers Melbourne (16-3-1) and Viera (16-1-2), who are seeded first and second in the district tournament. South Fork, Sebastain and Martin County make up the other three teams in the district tournament. The defending Orange Belt Conference champions, Harmony, played both top seeds during the regular season – losing a 1-0 decision at Melbourne on Jan. 17, and dropping a 2-0 decision to Viera on Jan. 20.
Harmony opened district play against Martin County (2-11-3) yesterday and if victorious will play at Viera on Feb. 4.
“No doubt it is going to be a challenge as this district is loaded,” Harmony Head Coach Brett Ballard noted. “But I believe we have the same caliber team as those two teams do and anyone can beat anyone on any given night.” Ballard also noted that because of the current rankings, winning the district would not be necessary to advance to the regionals.
“Based on our rankings, I have to believe all three teams will get through to the next round.”
The Longhorns are led by forwards Cody Huff (27 goals, 13 assists) and Mathew Espinosa (12 goals, 5 assists). Goalie Kevin Lavigne has made 115 saves this season.
“This season has been a great one for Harmony soccer,” Ballard added. “We gained a lot of confidence when we knocked off a defending state champion in a pre-season game and that carried over in winning the Orange Belt Conference Championship Tournament at the start of the season. One of our biggest challenges will be to stay healthy. This is the time of the year where we are playing a lot of games between high school and club games.”
Playing in Class 5A, District 5, Gateway (2-14-3) saw its season come to an end on Wednesday with a district playoff loss to Jones. The Panthers played Jones to a 1-1 tied but failed to advance on penalty kicks (1-4).