FENTON • A recent change in the way coach Alan Trzecki has used sophomore forward John Gates has been extremely beneficial for the John Burroughs boys soccer team.
A move out wide not only has allowed Gates to score a good portion of his 15 goals in the last two weeks during the postseason, it also afforded him the chance for a finish in the team's biggest win of the season.
Gates scored the only goal Friday afternoon as John Burroughs edged Monett 1-0 in a Class 2 state semifinal at Soccer Park.
“I was just glad to put the ball into the back of the net to get the lead and it ended up being the game-winner,” Gates said. “Recently, I've been getting the ball more with the chance to go at guys. It's good because it gives me more space to do what I want to do. I can play give-and-gos and make combinations with the striker.”
John Burroughs (17-6-1) advanced to play St. Charles West (25-1, No. 1 in the STLhighschoolsports.com small-schools rankings) for the state title at 2 p.m. Saturday. It’s the first game between the teams in at least 20 seasons.
The Bombers are seeking their fourth state title, including the 2016 crown they won by beating Monett in the final. They also won titles in 2008 and 2013.
“It feels great,” Trzecki said. “These guys set a goal for themselves every year to try and come back to the Soccer Park. We've been thinking about this since our loss to Priory last year in the sectional game.”
John Burroughs enters the final on an eight-game winning streak.
With five minutes left in the opening half Friday, Gates took full advantage of some extra space afforded him by Monett (22-6). After he beat Monett sophomore goalkeeper Joshua Patino, all Gates had to do was finish into the open net.
“The keeper came in kind of soft, so I took that to my advantage and I pushed it by him,” Gates said. “I probably should have taken an extra touch, but I was so excited, so I just had to put the ball in the back of the net. I just kept thinking to myself, 'Don't get blown up by this keeper, just keep running.’ ”
While Gates found his finish, John Burroughs accomplished its mission of making sure Monett senior forward Jason Puente didn't improve upon his 41 goals.
Bombers senior goalkeeper John Nash, who made five saves in his eighth solo shutout of the season, lauded the defensive effort.
“To shut down a guy like him was no small feat, so it was really nice,” Nash said. “For him not to get any dangerous looks on goal, that was a huge accomplishment for our back line.”
Monett junior forward Esvin Marida had two good looks and perhaps the best chance for the Cubs midway through the second half, but Nash and the defense were up to the task.
“Our No. 1 objective was to try and slow (Puente) down,” Trzecki said. “I think we did that well. We had a good screen in front of him and good cover behind him. I think it was important, not that he's the only guy. They certainly have other players, I just thought our midfielders did a good job staying underneath the ball. They gave relief to the backs, not having the ball on top of them the entire time.”