The state’s top-seeded boys soccer team is heading back to familiar territory — the Division I state championship.
St. Paul’s, the winners of the past two Division I titles, earned a spot in its sixth consecutive championship game with a 3-0 semifinal win over 12th-seeded Catholic of Baton Rouge at Hunter Stadium in Covington.
The Wolves advanced to face third-ranked Acadiana in the final, which will be held 7:30 p.m Saturday at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans City Park.
The semifinal resembled St. Paul’s quarterfinal match against New Iberia, in that the Wolves had plenty of looks on offense, but failed to score in the first half with the opponent packing the box at times. Then, as it did in the quarters, St. Paul’s broke out in the second half, clamped down on defense, and cruised to victory.
Reiss Thieler scored two goals, and Colin Ross had one.
“Definitely our last pass was the big talk at halftime,” Thieler said. “We got into the attacking third to last pass it and tuck it away. When we go into the championship game, the last pass is going to be big for us.”
St. Paul’s (26-1-3) cracked off a pair of shots from long distance in the first 20 minutes of the game, but none were close to a score. The best look came in the 22nd minute when Thieler broke through the left side of the Catholic box and booted a left-footed shot that zipped just wide of the near post. Then, in the 26th minute, Nash Odenwald had an open chip from about 7 yards out, but it sailed high. In the 36th minute, a penalty kick by Nick Isolani from 18 yards went high of the crossbar.
Although the Wolves outshot the Bears 5-0 before the break, the game remained scoreless.
The second half quickly turned in St. Paul’s favor. Ross took a ball in the right corner of the Catholic box 30 seconds into the half, spun, and bumped a left-footed shot into the bottom right corner of the Bears’ net.
St. Paul’s didn’t wait long to tally again, and this time, it was Thieler’s turn. In the 45th minute, he broke free in the middle of the field and sent a ball into the left side of the goal.
The 2-0 lead, combined with St. Paul’s stalwart defensive play, handcuffed Catholic (15-8-2) throughout the remainder of the game. Theiler added his second goal in the 67th minute.
St. Paul’s coach Sean Moser said his team has plenty to work on should it want to win its fourth title in six years. His team outshot Catholic, however, 13-2.
“I thought we started slow, and I thought we got beat on a lot of 50-50 balls in the first half,” Moser said. “There was no movement like we usually (have.) We’d win the ball back, and the forwards would be standing. So we said, ‘This is what we need to do’ and scored two goals — boom, boom — in the second half, and then we started playing (poorly) again. So overall, I’ll take it. We played well enough to win ... but we’ve got a lot to clean up.”
Ross said there was a need to pick up the pace in the second half, and the Wolves knew it.
“We had to get our communication together; the passing, finding that last pass,” he said. “It was very similar to the New Iberia game.”
Catholic coach Josh McReynolds said a change in game plan at halftime allowed St. Paul’s to score the two quick goals that turned out to be a backbreaker for the Bears.
“I took full credit for that,” McReynolds said. “We made some tactical adjustments we thought could find a way to hurt them and sit not quite so deep. But credit them. They are a quality side, and when we got out of our shell a little bit, they punished us. ... But I told our guys, in terms of what we asked them to do all season, they worked so hard and did everything. I’m very proud of them.”