Boys soccer playoffs: St. Thomas More capitalizes on throw-ins to beat East Jefferson _lowres

Photo by JOSEPH HALM – St. Thomas More’s Ronny Rodrigue, right, tries to shield East Jeffersons Jean Carlo Pineda from the ball during a Division II quarterfinals match at Joe Yenni Stadium on Feb. 16.

Casey Friend was contemplating whether to have his team stay at home or to stay on the road.

That was the decision facing the St. Thomas More boys soccer coach earlier this week. Friend had been weighing the pros and cons between his Cougars staying in the comforts of their own homes the night before Friday’s state championship game, or stay in a hotel in the greater New Orleans area.

Friend ultimately went with the hotel, as he wanted his team to watch the Division III championship between E.D. White and St. Louis Catholic on Thursday night at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans.

“I decided to do it for two reasons,” Friend said. “For one, we have a young team and these guys haven’t played for a state championship. So we are going to have the chance to feel the atmosphere of the stadium. The second thing is that we are going to see the difference between winning and losing. I think that will put our game in perspective and motivate them.”

No. 1 STM (18-6-6) plays No. 6 Holy Cross (15-5-8) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

Friend’s approach to championship week has been one of relaxation. Due to Tuesday’s bad weather, the Cougars were unable to practice so the team just watched watched Champions League games.

“We are treating this week a little different,” said Friend, who has been pleased with the support the 2001 state title team has given to him and his team this week. “I feel that the kids feed off of my energy. So if I get too intense this week then they will get a little too intense. My biggest thing is that we will treat this as a normal week of business.”

“I think we are coming out really strong,” junior Quentin Olivier said. “Our team has really improved over the past few months and we have been playing lights out lately.”

This week’s business ends with one final game, against a team that upset No. 3 Neville 2-1 in the semifinals.

“I know they are very dynamic and technically sound,” Friend said. “They play from side to side and they are going to try to possess the ball. They are organized defensively so it will be tough test for my boys.”

In the past two months, STM has proven to be the tough test for opponents as the Cougars have produced a dominant brand of soccer. The Cougars enter Friday having not surrendered more than one goal in a contest since a 2-2 tie with Beau Chene back on Jan. 14. In addition, STM has outscored its last nine foes by the score of 34-3.

“I give all the credit to the boys,” Friend said. “They have been all in with my game plan ever since January. My team is just bunch of guys that work hard together and work hard for me. You can have such a talented team that may not listen to me but these guys bust their butts and listen.”