LADUE — Brandon Harris admitted he had a hard time focusing in class Thursday.
The St. Louis U. High junior did his best during the school day and then pumped in three first-half goals Thursday evening to help the Jr. Billikens build a lead and go on to a 10-5 win over Parkway Central in a Missouri Water Polo district tournament semifinal at MICDS' Orthwein Pool in the Steward Aquatic Center.
“It was hard to concentrate,” Harris said. “I've kind of been thinking about this game the whole season, really. I wasn't as nervous as I thought I was gonna be.”
Top-seeded SLUH (19-4) advanced to its 18th MWP title game in the last 21 seasons. The Jr. Bills will take on No. 2 seed Parkway West (25-1) for the championship at 4 p.m. Saturday at MICDS.
“We talked before the game that this is where the road ended for us last year, so let's see if we can go that one step further,” SLUH coach John Penilla said. “I think they feel like they want to live up to the legacy that the program demands and they were up to the task today.”
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Fourth-seeded Central (13-9) will play in the third-place game for the second straight season when it takes on No. 6 seed Ladue (16-10) at 2 p.m. Saturday at MICDS.
“We've got a young team, so I think it's exciting to even be in this game,” Colts coach Andrew Schonhoff said. “We lost a lot of senior leadership from last year, so I don't think a whole lot of people expected us to be in the third-place game this year, so I'm real proud of the guys. Anytime you've got a chance to end the season with a win is a good thing.”
After a long scoreless start, Harris finally pushed the first goal across 3 minutes and 22 seconds in. Central then scored two straight from Quin Wolff and Tyler Bryant and took its first and only lead of the game.
“Anytime you can come out and trade blows with the No. 1 team in the state in those first couple minutes, it's fun,” Schonhoff said. “It kind of showed the guys we were in it and could play with these guys, but SLUH's got some horses.”
Harris scored with exactly one minute left in the first quarter and Cooper Scharff tallied a goal just 14 seconds later to give SLUH the lead for good and kickstart a run of six straight Jr. Bills' goals to end the first half.
“It felt good,” Harris said. “It was more exciting to see how we progressed in that second quarter off of those first three goals.”
Sam French scored a pair of goals, and Harris and Joe Zarrilli each notched one in the second quarter to give the Jr. Bills a 7-2 halftime lead.
“We had a slow start and we knew that was a possibility, so we had talked about how we had to just keep going and we had 28 minutes to win the game. It's not the first five or seven or 10,” Penilla said. “So, when we got the first one and then we were able to tie it up and take the lead, I think we settled down a little bit, got into the flow of the game and played the defense we knew we were capable of playing.”
Wolff scored at the 3:46 mark of the third quarter to break a long scoreless drought of 13:25 for the Colts, which helped lead to their undoing.
“That'll do it,” Schonhoff said. “We only scored seven against CBC on Tuesday. We knew from the start that our identity had to be defense first. I'm proud of the way we're limiting other teams, but, obviously, you can't win games if you don't score more goals.”
Scharff, French and Brody Nester tallied goals in the final three minutes of the quarter to push SLUH's lead to 10-3.
The fourth quarter was a scoreless affair until Bryce Scaife and Will Jost scored for the Colts in the final 1:29 of the game, but it wasn't enough to overcome the slow first half.
“Overall, I'm really proud of the way our guys played. SLUH's awesome. They're No. 1 for a reason. They've got a great starting seven and they've got great players coming off the bench,” Schonhoff said. “I'm really proud of our defense. Obviously, what we need to work on is finding a way to get the ball in the back of the net a couple more times. We got some opportunities, but we just didn't execute.”
Meanwhile, the Jr. Bills used their big start to celebrate another championship berth.
“It feels great,” Harris said. “It's good to see that work that we put in last year finally pay off. The team spirit we have this year is just so much stronger because we've had more practices with each other and we've spent more time with each other and I think that's helping us out.”