Playoff Tune Up: #9 St. Thomas Aquinas 8 – #3 Jupiter 5

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Thanks to Nancy Cumella, Artie Schimek and Sam Khalil for the pics!

Thursday night in Ft. Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas continued its resurrection from a mid-season losing streak to win its fourth game, 8-5 over Jupiter High School in a fast, crisply played game.  As the final tune-up for both teams prior to playing District playoffs each was hoping for a nice win while avoiding any injuries and the game kind of played out that way, at least in the first half.  Neither team really physically went after the other in the first.  But in the second half the teams stepped up the intensity as the normal competitive juices kicked in. Thankfully neither team took a liberty with the other team’s players and in the end both coaches came out of the game breathing a little better.  I didn’t keep stats for this one so this will be more a general take on each team.

Coach Crowley of STA must be thrilled with how his team has come together late in the season. Missing his entire starting attack and key subs to start the year he had to rely on a group of kids to step up early on and carry the offense through and the kids stepped up big.  Combined with an excellent midfield core of Revin Koss, Alex Tuminello and Alex Cumella the maturation of Louis Yovino and Sam Khalil in particular kept STA’s season from going stagnant offensively, and the kids are now full contributors on a suddenly very deep offensive squad that was reinvigorated by the return of All-American RJ Curtin and Dillon LaGamma, and now STA can run multiple packages and keep legs fresh going into the playoffs.

Coach Loftus has kind of a good news/bad news feel to his offense right now.  His team’s ball movement and offensive patterns were terrific last night and the offense generated many good looks.  However, the shooting was off some last night as it looked like only about 40% of their shot attempts actually hit the net (just going on an estimate of what I saw).  And when they did hit the net STA goalie Michael Adler made 15 saves on 20 shots on goal.  Jupiter’s defense played well as they held STA to only 8 goals while STA had scored 49 times in the last 3 games against excellent competition.  Nonetheless, the offensive output has to be a concern as the team has played hot and cold offensively through much of the season.  Part of that is Jupiter’s tendency to want to play longer possessions and keep more control of the ball but, at times, finishing has been an issue.

 

Jupiter Sampson Compress

 

Jupiter clearly has the tougher path in Districts.  They open with a very dangerous Palm Beach Gardens team they beat 15-7 earlier this month in their best offensive output of the season but PBG has reeled off three quality wins since that game and come into the district playoff game with confidence.  Assuming Jupiter advances they then will likely face a re-match with Benjamin, who is red-hot in their own right and has already beaten Jupiter this year.  Jupiter is just as capable or going all the way as anyone but needs to regain their earlier season form to do so.

STA has a relatively easy path as they likely face a re-match with University School in the district finals; a team they handled 16-8 less than two weeks ago (University is an up and coming program but is likely a couple of years away from stepping up this far) and their first round likely opponent in the brackets will be Cypress Bay, a team with injury issues of their own.  A Final 16 re-match with Columbus Catholic is most likely and the potential rematch with Barron Collier (or a meeting with Gulf Coast) looms for a trip to Bradenton.

If Jupiter gets out of district the road doesn’t get easier as the first round pairing of District 20 is District 19, with the 4 teams of Vero, St. Edwards, Jensen Beach and Martin County all capable of pulling off an upset.  At that point the final 16 match-up would bring Melbourne Central Catholic to town.  The likely Final 8 pairing would be the survivor of District 23 – SA, Boca, PJP and Spanish River – to decide the spot in Bradenton.

Wow, I just got tired checking all those possibilities out . . .

 

 

Adler was the player of the game last night, adding a length-to-length dash for a goal to his 15 saves.  Yovino really stood out as Jupiter concentrated more on Curtin.  Yovino has the combination of heavy outside shot and quick dodging, making it difficult to play him for both.  Now that STA’s offense can play behind the net effectively it’s also opened up their midfielders to play more off ball, while they had to dodge more earlier in the season.

For Jupiter it’s interesting to me to watch Braylen Sampson’s improvement this year as he plays with more discipline and not look for the physical confrontation.  Connor Alexander took his game to the next level last year and Sampson’s game has matured this year.  He’s such a big kid that staying on balance more has really helped him.  And I’m very impressed with how quickly he can get out on a clear or turnover and contribute to a fast break.  Alexander is very valuable on the clear and doesn’t try to do too much while carrying the ball.  As I’ve said before, watching Viper Scheele is a treat; he has an ability to make himself look very big in the crease and that allows him to show an economy of movement while still making the save.

These are two very dangerous teams right now and it might well come down to whether they stay healthy going forward.  We might well be watching this game again in the semifinals at Bradenton.  Either way, neither is an easy out for anyone.

Thanks to Coaches Crowley and Loftus for talking with me before and after the games and good luck to both squads as they head on to Districts next week!

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And a final note:  In the last STA article I begged for pics to be sent in.  Thanks to the STA Nation for doing so!  You can dial it back a little!

I might actually run a photo gallery article over the weekend from all the submissions!

Maybe I’ll ask for money next time . . . or hamburgers.  Two more last night.  Umm good.  Got to try the hot dog next time.