In last Friday's Class 3A, Section III win over West Palm Beach-Wellington, the St. Petersburg boys soccer team achieved a near-perfect balance of offensive and defensive crispness. The Green Devils (20-4-2), who were playing in just their second sectional game, won easily (3-0) by outshooting the Wolverines by almost 3-to-1 (14-5), and controlling play every minute of the game.
St. Petersburg forwards Justin DeStoppelaire and Matt Mustoe worked with midfielders Brandon Hale and Luis Pizano to keep the ball primarily on the Wolverines' half of the field, and defenders Aksone Phetsadasack, Don Songbandith and Richard Painter so blunted the Wellington attack that goalkeeper David Masi was forced to make just three saves all game.
Today at 6 p.m., the Devils play in their first-ever state tournament, against a team _ Daytona Beach-Seabreeze _ very similar to Wellington. St. Petersburg coach Andy Hale was so pleased following his team's play in their sectional win that he decided not to alter in any way this week's practices.
"I don't know much about them, and we're going in pretty blind, but I'm not changing a thing," Hale, the Devils' sixth-year coach, said Thursday. "This has been a long season and I'm not going to push the kids too hard. We're just looking to give them a good match. Hopefully, we won't have to adjust too much."
On defense, St. Petersburg might not have to adjust at all. Like Wellington, the Sandcrabs (21-0-1) play a physical, kick-it-and-catch-up-to-it type of soccer, pushing every ball quickly up to the offensive line and relying on speedy forwards for the finishing touch. Strikers Mike Phillips and Todd Becker each have netted 16 goals, almost all of which have come on breakaways.
On offense, the Green Devils might just have to try different attacks until something works. Seabreeze goalkeeper Kenny Bethea this season turned in a Volusia County-leading 14 shutouts, and defender Mike Sanders, a first-team all-state pick, is considered one of the top athletes in the school.
"This is our first time ever at the state tournament so we're just looking to be competitive," Hale said. "If things go our way and we play a good game, we'll come out on top.
"This has already been a tremendous season for us. The kids have played excellent soccer, and have maintained their composure and character very well. This has been the best season I've ever had as a coach. These are really quality guys."