In a real nail biter, the LP Jackets boys soccer team narrowly edged McKinley Middle 1-0 on Jan. 21 to finish the middle school season undefeated and claim both league and tournament championships.

The win was preceded by victories over Runnels (7-1) and University Middle (6-0) during the Baton Rouge Middle School Soccer Program’s closing tournament, according to a news release.

For the season, Axel Agurcia and Jon Baio led the squad with 20 and 13 total goals, respectively, assisted defensively by goalie Matthew Scherp and backup goalie Michael Dunlap, who together gave up one goal during league and tournament play. LP Jackets coach Ralph Burgess said nearly 80 percent of the team had scored goals by season’s end.

The team is comprised of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders attending Denham Springs Junior High and Juban Park Junior High.

“This trophy means so much to the team; this is for our community and those who support soccer,” Burgess said.

The LP Jackets girls team, led by coach Paige Frederick, had similar success, finishing the regular season 6-0. However, the team was moved from Division 3 to Division 2 immediately prior to the tournament, preventing it from being named league champion. The girls team also lost in the tournament’s first round.

Burgess, a 12-year soccer coach, cobbled the LP Jackets teams together last fall when several middle school players were left with no place to play after the dissolution of the parish-wide LP Express teams in 2016. “There was a lot of concern after the Express dissolved,” he said. “There were a lot of parents who still had kids in the program.” While there are school-sponsored soccer teams at Live Oak Middle School and Southside Junior High, none of the remaining middle schools support soccer.

“Basically, this was a select team we put together,” Burgess said. “We just wanted to get our feet wet and see what kind of response we got.” At about the same time, Frederick volunteered to coach the girls’ team, and the two began practicing at North Park last October, a few weeks prior to the start of the middle school season.

Looking ahead, Burgess has plans to expand the teams. “I think we would have a good showing in the Baton Rouge league. This year, I probably could've had two teams of boys from Denham Springs Junior High alone.”