Region boys soccer: Jesuit 5, Boca Ciega 0
GULFPORT — Teams ideally look to peak come playoff time. In Jesuit's case, "peaking" doesn't seem to be a strong enough term.
From the opening kick Saturday night until the last starter was substituted out, the Tigers thoroughly dominated host Boca Ciega 5-0 to advance to the Class 3A region final.
Jesuit (21-6-1) will host Merritt Island on Tuesday, the fourth straight postseason that the schools have battled.
Driven by the all-out hustle of senior winger Royce Pope, the Tigers were playing at a different level compared to the Pirates (15-3-2). They were faster, even though they were playing their first game on natural turf in three weeks, and more physical. Jesuit funneled the ball deftly from sideline to sideline to crack open the defense, then sent runners into the penalty area that knew how to finish.
"Our pregame speech was to come out and outwork (Bogie) in all aspects of the game," said Pope, a Centre College (Kentucky) commit who finished with four assists in the region semifinal. "I think we did in the first half, definitely."
The pattern was simple but devastating. Pope would usually hustle down a through ball going to the left baseline, then lunge to cross the ball in front of the net to a trio of forwards.
Just 1:44 into action, Pope fielded Noah Kurtz's pass and found Benny Ortiz on the doorstep for a lightning-fast ice-breaker. It was Ortiz's team-high 27th goal of the season.
Less than three minutes later, junior Diego Yepez was the target, finishing with a 15-yard rocket that deflected off a Pirate defender and into the net.
In the ninth minute, Pope's superb passing from a dead run found a wide-open Zach Board on the right side to make it 3-0.
Jesuit's first-half run of terror ended in the 13th minute when Board drew a hustle foul in the penalty area and Kurtz converted the penalty kick.
"We played well at the end of our last game (a 4-0 win over Osceola), but the first 20 minutes of (Saturday's game) was some of the best soccer we've played," said Tigers coach Eric Sims. "Our touches were tight, our passing was spot-on ... It was a dream start. When we scored those first two goals so quickly, it allowed us to relax."
Bogie tried to climb back into competition behind hard-working seniors Akiley Coombs and Ke'Shawn Wiggan but Jesuit's backline, led by sophomore Jeffrey Masser, was too staunch.
Jesuit wrapped up its scoring in the 50th minute when Pope connected with Board for his second tally of the night.
And with a final four berth on the line Tuesday, Pope is looking forward to the challenge.
"We lost to them twice then won last year. They're going to want revenge, we're going to want to defend our home turf. This is going to be a good game."