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Tuesday, January 1
Mustangs Sweep - Win St Paul's Tournament

Caddo Magnet coach Radi Baltov said it simply, "Soccer is a game of opportunity. You have to take advantage of your opportunities when you get them."

His was the only North Louisiana team to make the trip this past weekend to the prestigious St Paul’s Holiday Tournament in Covington, Louisiana. This year’s tournament of sixteen teams had most of the state’s Top 10 soccer powers (as rated by LAHS Soccer.com and Soccer Power Ratings) including the current state champions of all three divisions. Though Caddo Magnet went into the tournament as the #7 team in the state and is highly regarded in the northern part, its entry was a mere footnote in this region of traditional powerhouses such as Jesuit, Brother Martin, Vandebilt, St. Paul’s, and others.

In their morning match, the Mustangs needed a near-perfect game against current Division III state champion St Louis, a pre-tournament favorite, to really have a chance in this tournament – and they got it. Scoring in the first three minutes of each half, the team shut out St Louis with quick and masterful passing and a smothering defense throughout the game for their first big upset of the tournament. Sophomore forward Alex Blandin created both scores with passes to Adam West in the first and to Nick Flowers in the second. He almost had one himself in the second half but clanged it off the upright. This was a game where everyone raised their level of play, and it was a technically beautiful game to watch. Caddo Magnet controlled the pace throughout the match and exceeded their opponent’s scoring chances by a wide margin - getting nine shots-on-goal to four for St Louis (only one in the second half). There were few whistles in this game with each side receiving only one yellow card. Final score – 2 to 0.

With everyone still sky-high after their morning win over St Louis there was concern over how they would manage the afternoon game with last year’s high school runner-up St. Paul’s School. The game got underway with the stronger and bigger opponent, and though the Mustang passing was still crisp St Paul’s appeared to out-hustle the Mustangs to take the early possession edge. By halftime the Mustangs were showing signs of weariness but they hung in bravely to close the half with no scores. A short rest was apparently just what the doctor ordered as they shocked their opponent with a score five minutes into the second half. Center midfielder Zach Kelly sent a beauty down the middle to West who out-muscled his defender to sneak one past the keeper. At that point the Wolves became more physical and aggressive, and the Mustangs responded with same. The passing game for both sides suffered as a result as the game became more reckless. St Paul’s got the equalizer in the 47th minute when a ball was not quickly cleared following a direct free kick. The Mustangs had chances but appeared for the most part to be winding down with fatigue, although they had more shots-on-goal (eleven – with nine coming in the second half) than St Paul’s (only three).  The more aggressive Wolves appeared on the verge of taking the lead several times against the tiring Mustangs, but heroic efforts time after time by the Mustang defense allowed them only one good look at the net in the second half but no go-ahead score. In stoppage time Caddo Magnet was awarded a direct kick from just beyond the 18-yard line. Ethan Colbert sent a rocket to the keeper who was not able to wrap it up, and it slid off his hands into the left corner of the goal. The air seemed to come out of St Paul’s attack at that point and the game was over a few minutes later. Final score – 2 to 1.

The Mustangs had survived their first-day ‘Bracket of Death’ with two victories against a pair of highly-regarded teams. Only three other teams were able to escape with two victories in first-day action – Jesuit, Brother Martin, and Catholic of Baton Rouge.

The Mustangs got their third victory on Saturday morning against Baton Rouge. The game started in a sluggish manner as both sides tried to get comfortable on St Paul’s soft artificial turf. Adam West got a goal in his third straight game in the 16th minute (assisted this time by Steven Bush). In the 22nd minute Alex Blandin brought the ball all the way down the field with some elusive footwork and finished nicely for the Mustangs second score. At that point several Mustang players started rotating in, after which Baton Rouge began to show some life. Baton Rouge was able to get a score just before the half following a miscommunication between defender and keeper. With a precarious 2 to 1 halftime lead, the original starters came out for the second half to face a resurgent Baton Rouge team, but in the 52nd minute West sent another one into the left corner (assist by Jimmy Cowles), and Baton Rouge began to fade at that point. The Mustangs had eleven shots-on-goal while allowing Baton Rouge five, with most of those coming with several starters on the bench.  In an aggressive but well-controlled match Baton Rouge was yellow carded twice for rough play and the Mustangs picked up one for arguing. Final score was 3 to 1. The win gave the Mustangs a sweep of bracket A and an advance into the afternoon semifinals. Their opponent would be Lafayette’s Acadiana High School, a recent Division I state champion and the current second-ranked team in the state.

The semifinal match against Acadiana started slowly, but Caddo Magnet was soon into its precision passing mode as the larger Acadiana team settled into a physical and disruptive type of game. The Mustangs controlled the early pace of the match but were unable to put anything into the net until the 18th minute when Caddo Magnet was awarded an indirect free kick from twenty-two yards out. Steven Bush shoved a two-foot pass over to Ethan Colbert who launched a missile into the net through the outstretched arms of the keeper. That would be the eventual game-winner as neither side could manage another score. For the remainder of the game the Mustangs continued to attack and create several scoring chances but were unable to take advantage of a weary but strong Acadiana defense. The Mustang defense came through with a herculean effort in the closing minutes as they held off a once-beaten and proud team which sent everything it had at the net in a flurry of shots. Chris Hilario had a huge game in net with several of those late saves. The forwards were shut out for the first time in the tournament but the midfield again came through with beautiful distribution and attacks. Shots-on-goal were about even with five for Caddo Magnet and six for Acadiana (five of those in the second half – mostly due to direct free kicks from close distances). The play was rough throughout with five yellow cards being distributed - four to the Mustangs. The 1 to 0 victory put the Mustangs into the St Paul’s final for the second consecutive year.

In the 1 p.m. Sunday final Caddo Magnet jumped on Brother Martin early with a score in the second minute. Working from the right sideline, defender Spencer Inman sent a long pass to the left side of the goal. Forward Jordan Abdehou had position and quickly pulled the ball away from the diving keeper's reach, spun around and slipped it into the back of the net. The Mustangs were in control of this game early and almost got another goal a few minutes later, but then they started getting sloppy and aggressive, and by the midpoint of the half the team had amassed three yellow cards and given Brother Martin multiple free kicks, one of which resulted in a tying score in the 33rd minute. (The initial shot did not go in, but with Caddo Magnet’s failure to clear quickly it was slapped in amid heavy traffic.) The Mustangs gathered themselves at halftime and began the second half again in control. This time they maintained their composure and created several nice opportunities but nothing they could finish. With the 1 to 1 tie the game went to golden goal overtime. The Mustangs continued to control the tempo of the match but still could not get the ball into the net. Seconds from the conclusion of the first overtime Inman was yellow carded for a tackle in the 18-yard box – a horrible call, but before Brother Martin could take the penalty kick the official tossed keeper Chris Hilario out of the game for taunting - another horrible call. Following the missed penalty kick, the Brother Martin shooter was then tossed for swinging at a Mustang player. After the second overtime without a score, the game went to FIFA kicks. Both sides made all five attempts, so the kicks continued until Brother Martin missed on their 10th attempt, giving the Mustangs the title with the 1 to 1 (10-9 pks) win. (Making their kicks for the Mustangs were Zach Kelly, Ethan Colbert, Nick Flowers, Luke Snow, Steven Bush, Adam West, Jimmy Cowles, Jordan Abdehou, Spencer Inman, and Alex Blandin.)  Except for the twenty minute lapse of focus in the first half, Caddo Magnet was in control throughout the match. They continually built quality attacks resulting in ten shots-on-goal over the span of regulation and overtime versus two for Brother Martin. For the most part Brother Martin seemed intent on waiting for opportunities that just never materialized. With the win Caddo Magnet had their first St. Paul’s Holiday Tournament championship - possibly the first time in the tournament's 25-year history that the trophy has been won by a North Louisiana team.

It is often said that offenses win games but defenses win championships. Goalkeeper Chris Hilario and his four defenders Ethan Colbert, Spencer Inman, Robert Poole, and Luke Snow were magnificent throughout this tournament – giving up TWO GOALS TOTAL against the state’s #2, #4, and #6 Division I teams and the state’s #1 Division III team.  Hilario had courageous and beautiful saves throughout the tournament and has solidly established himself as one of the top keepers in the state with his instinctive play. Throughout the weekend midfielders Steven Bush, Jimmy Cowles, Nick Flowers, and Zach Kelly were key to the Mustangs success, controlling the midfield where games are won and lost. Forwards Adam West, Alex Blandin, and Jordan Abdehou made the most of rare opportunities against stiff defenses, with one or the other getting scores in all but one game. West was high scorer for Caddo Magnet with four goals in the tournament.

Center midfielder Zach Kelly and inside defender Ethan Colbert were named Offensive and Defensive MVPs for the final. Additionally, the two were also named to the All-Tournament Team along with center midfielder Nick Flowers. Zach Kelly was also named MVP for the semifinal match.  In the prior bracket matches, Defensive Player of the Game honors went to Nick Flowers in the St Louis game, to Ethan Colbert in the St Paul’s game, and to Spencer Inman in the Baton Rouge game, with Colbert recognized as overall Bracket Play MVP. 

Special thanks to Coach Radi Baltov and assistant coach John (Chicky) Harter for preparing these boys to take advantage of their opportunities this weekend, and also to managers Allison Fish and Valerie Aguilar

With the tournament victory the Mustangs simultaneously ascend to the state’s #1 position in LAHS Soccer.com’s poll (an opinion poll) and Soccer Power Ratings (based on results and strength of schedule).

The Times-Picayune had this article.

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