Tigers get final tune-up before season-defining match with Walker

Published 9:19 pm Friday, April 9, 2010

The Demopolis soccer team (10-7) picked up a pair of wins and a pretty encouraging loss over a 24-hour span Thursday and Friday evenings.

The Tigers started with a 7-2 win over Robert E. Lee Thursday night in a match that saw five different players score goals.

“They played well,” head coach Peter Keen said of his team’s effort. “They kept the ball on the ground.”

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Tyler Howerton racked up a hat trick in the contest, scoring three goals to push his school record single season total to 15. Brandon Hay and Cameron Fendley each scored a goal while Trey Williams and Mitch McPherson each posted their first score of the season.

Friday, the Tigers traveled to Mobile to take on Vigor and St. Paul’s in a double-header. Demopolis utilized the majority of its younger players against Vigor, netting a 3-0 win on the strength of Howerton’s second hat trick in as many games. The Demopolis junior now stands at 18 goals on the season.

But as excited as Keen was about his team’s wins, he was even more thrilled over the squad’s 4-1 loss to St. Paul’s, an elite program that has tasted defeat only once on the season. in that game, Demopolis scored its lone goal on a Cameron Fendley header that was assisted by a Keith Junious cross.

“I wanted to play a team before we played (region rival) Walker. That would make us play up,” Keen said of the decision to schedule St. Paul’s. “It did exactly what I wanted. I couldn’t ask for it to be any better without getting the win. It has helped us tremendously getting ready to go against Walker. We know the caliber of team that we are. But then again, Walker is our rival.”

Keen said he understands the nature of the budding rivalry with Walker. The teams split their two games in 2009, sending the final berth in the region to be decided by point differential. Walker took the berth with a one-point advantage. But over the last two weeks, Keen has seen his squad go to to toe with major state powers John Carroll and St. Paul’s, losing by only three goals in each contest.

“It speaks for itself,” Keen said. “When it is time to step up, they’ve stepped up. They’ve played as hard and as well as the other team. To be even playing with those guys is huge. You walk off the field with your head held high.”

It is those flashes of brilliance that gives Keen the assurance that his squad could legitimately clinch its first playoff appearance ever Tuesday. The scenario is simple at first and then not as much thereafter.

Demopolis must win against Walker Tuesday to clinch a playoff berth. A loss automatically sends the team from Jasper to the playoffs yet again. However, a Demopolis win would force a split in the season series and send the Tigers’ region record to 5-2 with only one game remaining. Conversely, Walker would fall to 4-3 with only one game remaining. The one game for each team is perennial power John Carroll. Assuming all held to form and John Carroll continued its undefeated trek through the regular season, Demopolis would finish one game better than Walker. That would send the Tigers to the playoffs.

At the very least, a win over Walker Tuesday puts Walker in a nearly impossible position if it hopes to reach the playoffs this season. In that instance, Walker would need to beat John Carroll and hope for Demopolis to fall in its final game with JCCHS. Were that to happen, the teams would go to a head-to-head tiebreak. Under the first tiebreaker, they would hold a split decision. That would send to a tiebreak that takes into account head-to-head point differential. Walker currently holds a plus-two advantage thanks to its 3-1 win earlier this year. But a loss Tuesday affects that number. Under this scenario, Walker would need to lose to Demopolis by no more than one goal and beat John Carroll while hoping for a Demopolis loss to John Carroll.

Should the Tigers win by exactly two goals on Tuesday, the teams would hold a neutral head-to-head point differential margin. That would send the teams to a tiebreaker that focuses on point differential against regional opponents. As of Friday, Demopolis held a plus-13 in that category. The Tigers beat Central twice by a total of 12-1 and defeated Pleasant Grove on two occasions by a total of 10-3. That sends the Tigers to a plus-18 in those two games. However, losses to John Carroll (3-0) and Walker (3-1) bring that margin down to a plus-13.

Heading into action Friday, Walker held a plus-10 point differential thanks to wins over Central that totaled 20-1 and losses to John Carroll (8-0) and Pleasant Grove (3-2).

So a win Tuesday all but clinches a playoff berth for Demopolis. That is, unless the Tigers win by more than two goals. In that instance Demopolis clinches its first playoff berth in program history outright by virtue of the fact that it would hold the advantage in the team’s head-to-head point differential.

Overall, it is a convoluted situation that the Tigers can make much, much more clear by taking care of business at home Tuesday at 4 p.m., something Keen believes they have every ability to do.