Thursday night wasn’t the first time the St. Louis soccer team had been to the state championship. They’ve won 11 of them going into this season, including last season’s.
But the Saints found themselves in a place they weren’t familiar with — losing.
Top seeded St. Louis trailed No. 3 E.D. White 2-1 with about 20 minutes to play in the boys Division III soccer state championship at Tad Gormley, despite outshooting the Cardinals 13-7 at the time.
St. Louis knew what they were capable of.
In the span of less than three minutes, St. Louis mounted a two-goal comeback on the Cardinals to win the program’s 12th state championship 3-2, and they did it just the way they planned.
“I was pretty nervous, I’m not going to lie,” said senior Zack Eisner. “But I knew we would pull out with it.”
The Saints knew going into the game that their size and physicality in the goal box would be their key advantage, so it came as no surprise to them that both late scores came off set pieces near the box.
Senior Joe Manuel started the comeback with a perfectly placed header off a corner kick from game MVP Nick Cironi in the 62nd minute.
Cironi got in on the action in the 65th minute when he put in a long throw-in from Eisner for the game-winner.
“In all the state championships we’ve been in and won, I don’t think we’ve ever had to come back in a game,” Oertgling said. “(E.D. White) gave us everything that we wanted and more, and that just goes to show you our kids can come back from that.”
The Saints dominated the offensive side all night, eventually outshooting the Cardinals 17-11 by the final whistle, including 10 shots on frame.
Most of St. Louis’ attempts at goal came off set pieces by Eisner who bombarded E.D. White goalkeeper Nicholas Fontenot with driving free kicks.
But Fontenot responded well, coming up with seven saves.
Senior Michael Mack was the only Saint to score directly off a free kick, scoring the game’s opening goal in the sixth minute on a 55-yard shot that he admitted he was expecting it to go in.
E.D. White struggled to gain consistent momentum on offense, with the exception of sophomore Collin Toups who scored both Cardinals’ goals.
Toups first goal found the net in the 11th minute when he picked up his own rebound before easily burying the ball over St. Louis goalkeeper Connor Cutrera who didn’t have time to get off the ground.
Toups repeated his performance in the 42nd minute with a nearly identical play.
“They’re just bigger and stronger than us right now and you see that they score on throw-ins and corner kicks,” E.D. White coach Roger Bimah said. “When they scored the equalizer, (E.D. White) just felt that we couldn’t defend their big guys in the box.”