BATON ROUGE – The road for Denham Springs High to the championship match in the St. Michael Holiday Cup wasn’t one filled without potholes.
Neither was the title match as well.
However, in three of the four matches after spotting the opposition a goal, Denham Springs roared back which was the case in Saturday’s championship match where seventh-ranked Yellow Jackets scored three goals in the second half for a 3-1 victory over No. 10 West Jefferson at BREC’s Burbank Soccer Complex.
“They’ve proven to be resilient,” Denham Springs coach Chris Thorne. “I’d just prefer not being down 1-0. They (West Jefferson) had a very fast guy up top. We knew they were going to try and play up and over, they got it in on us and scored.”
Not only did Denham Springs (12-5) followed a recent pattern of rallying from early deficits which they did in wins over Pope John Paul (3-1) and Southside (2-1) in pool play to reach the championship match with an unblemished 3-0 showing.
The Yellow Jackets also relied on the production of a sophomore class that’s had up to eight players in starting roles this season, with Axel Agurcia and Blaze Restivo accounting for all three of the team’s goals after a scoreless first half.
They’re also a key reason why Denham Springs has reeled off seven consecutive wins and worked its way back into the state’s Division I rankings after a 3-4 start.
“We’re growing together,” Restivo said. “We’re a really young team. I’m looking forward to the future.”
Said Thorne: “They’re gelling with the older guys; they’re coming into their own. We’ve kind of fixed some question marks from early in the season and are hitting our stride.”
Denham Springs wasn’t without chances to offset the early score from West Jefferson (9-3-1) in the first five minutes of the match which began under a steady rain.
However, of the six shots from the Yellow Jackets – all of which were on frame – none found the back the net.
“I thought we lost our composure in the first half,” Thorne said. “We started arguing with each other and that’s what I addressed at halftime. We can’t let them take us out of our game. We had four really good opportunities in the first half and just didn’t finish. It was a matter of finishing and getting it in the net.”
Denham Springs’ defense, led by centerbacks Luke Restivo and Conelly Herrin, didn’t allow any dangerous chances in the second half and goal-keeper Tyler Burkett finished with six saves, only two in the second half.
A minute after having a shot stopped by West Jefferson’s goalie on a diving stop, Agurcia didn’t leave anything to chance and headed in Will Chevalier’s free kick inside the six-yard box into the left side of the net.
“We’ve down that multiple times this year,” Blaze Restivo said. “As soon as he scored I knew we were going to win. We always fall behind at first. It’s not good. We’re a resilient team and come back every time.”
A ball that started with a corner kick into the box, wound up at the feet of Restivo following a shot that was blocked. He was to the right at the mouth of the goal, sending the rebound into the net at the 44th minute for his team’s go-ahead score.
“It seems to be the team’s M.O.,” Thorne said after Agurcia’s goal broke the seal on the team’s scoring. “I don’t know what it is. It’s like the monkey’s off our backs, now we can all score. A goal makes everybody feels good. Axel has come up big for us all season and did once again.”
Blaze Restivo added his second goal three minutes later to put the match out of reach in the 47th minute. It was a carbon copy of his earlier goal, gathering in a shot that was blocked off the foot of Chevalier and cleaned it up in front of the goal.
“That’s how I get most of my goals,” Restivo said. “Get in the right place where I think I should be and usually defenders aren’t there. They’re watching the ball instead of the man in the box and I’m just there to finish it off.”