MONMOUTH — Nineteen days have made a jaw-dropping difference in the Saint Dominic Academy boys’ soccer team.
Since losing to Monmouth for the first time in school history, the Saints have strung together six consecutive wins, surrendering only one goal on a penalty kick.
The latest victory, in light of the timing and that previous indignity, was the most satisfying. Four different St. Dom’s players scored Monday afternoon, and Ben Sawyer made 13 saves to backstop a convincing 4-0 victory over Monmouth in the regular-season finale at Chick Field.
“We came out hard. We pressured. We really communicated well,” Sawyer said. “I thought the defense really set the tone for the team and really built up. Two of our goals were from the defense, so it really showed.”
On the line was the final automatic transfer spot into the Class C West quarterfinals. St. Dom’s (10-2-2) clinched at least the No. 5 seed and likely will travel to Waynflete next week. Monmouth (10-4) expects to go in No. 6 and host Lisbon in a preliminary game Friday.
“We’re a very dangerous team right now,” St. Dom’s coach Marty Bressler said. “We’re undefeated away right now, which I’m really excited about. Right now I’d rather play away than at home in the playoffs.”
Kyle Welsh and Gavin Bates each scored in the first nine minutes.
Sawyer and the Saints’ defense made that hold up in the face of a late Monmouth flurry for a 2-0 halftime lead. Adam Vining continued the onslaught after intermission, setting up goals by Ryan Lutrzykowski and Austin Roy.
Monmouth was playing without senior goalie Kasey Smith, who is recovering from a concussion and expected to return in the playoffs.
“That was ugly. That’s the first time other than the first game that we’d given up more than one goal in any game,” Monmouth coach Joe Fletcher said. “We didn’t come prepared at all. Flat from the start. I don’t even know what to say. Marty did a good job preparing them. They were hungry, and we were not.”
Welsh followed Lutrzykowski’s shot to get the Saints on the board after a quick change of possession and a well-placed pass from near midfield.
Mustangs’ keeper Bradley Neal made a nice knockdown to deny Welsh’s first bid, but he couldn’t recover in time to snuff out the redirect.
“That was a big momentum-builder,” Welsh said. “I definitely couldn’t have done it without the boys helping on the outside. One of our strongest points is probably going after goals on the outside services, doing our best to move everything from outside, because that’s where we’re strongest.”
St. Dom’s followed that plan to the letter on its second goal. Jacob Charest intentionally pushed his corner kick on the ground about six feet into play, then made two more unmarked forward touches before centering the ball above the sea of bodies in the middle.
Bates belted it home for the two-goal lead with 31:42 remaining in the half.
“We talked about how we needed to get two or three quick goals early and just kill the game after that,” Bressler said. “The kids managed the game exceptionally well, and our keeper made a couple of fantastic saves.”
Monmouth outshot St. Dom’s 11-9 in the first half, but most were from long range and arrived at Sawyer’s doorstep on an easy hop or slow roll.
Sawyer made a brilliant stop to keep Mason Clement off the board late in the half. Charest’s partial block also took some steam off a direct kick by Chandler Harris.
“We changed our formation, and I thought we actually controlled play for about 15 to 18 minutes, but we didn’t score,” Fletcher said. “Any time you kick the ball right at the goalie, they’re going to make saves.
And despite its defensive approach in the second half, St. Dom’s kept stacking up the goals.
The Saints’ third strike was the prettiest of the game, with Vining hesitating at the end line for about five seconds, all alone, before threading the needle to Lutrzykowski.
“Adam Vining’s composure on the end line there and to pass it through was just a brilliant goal,” Bressler said. “All the other goals were off things that we have talked about and tried to work on all season.”
Vining also served up Roy’s goal with 18:17 remaining.
“It’s a huge relief,” Sawyer said of clinching a direct route into the postseason. “Hopefully it’s momentum for us to see what we can do in the playoffs, to see if we can go in there and make a splash.”
Neal made 11 saves for the Mustangs, who were shut out for only the third time.
St. Dom’s has allowed three goals since a 3-0 loss to Hall-Dale in the season-opener.
“Defensively they played well. We didn’t compete today, and I don’t have an answer for it,” Fletcher said. “It’s unfortunate. You want to go into the playoffs on a roll, and we took a step backward today.”