LIVE OAK, Fla. — The sluggish starts from the district tournament were long gone.
Suwannee High needed just eight minutes to score in Wednesday’s regional quarterfinal and tacked on another goal late in the first half on the way to a 2-0 win against Wakulla at Langford Stadium.
It was the Bulldogs’ first postseason win since 2004 (2-0 against Arnold, also on Feb. 12) and just the second in program history. Suwannee heads to Jacksonville to face Bishop Kenny on Saturday at 7 p.m. in a regional semifinal. The Crusaders beat Melendez 3-2 on Wednesday.
“Sixteen years, that’s great,” SHS coach Chris Joyner said. “I’m proud of all of them.
“We fought. We battled.”
In a rematch from Friday’s District 2-4A championship game, Joyner instructed the Bulldogs (12-3-6) to forget about that previous win against the War Eagles, who finish the season 16-4-1 with three setbacks to SHS.
The Bulldogs also forgot about the second-half rallies they used to beat both Wakulla and Rickards in the district tournament when SHS scored five of its six goals.
“I told them from the get go to forget about Friday, this was a whole different team,” Joyner said.
Instead, the Bulldogs attacked early.
Taking a pass from senior Grayson Gill, SHS sophomore C.J. Joyner used his speed to beat his defender the last 30 yards and then placed his shot inside the right post to give the Bulldogs the 1-0 lead.
Joyner, who has 11 goals for the season, has tallied one in each of Suwannee’s past three games.
Chris Joyner said his assistants are to thank for his son’s impact at the top of the Bulldogs’ attack.
“Personally at the beginning of the season, I wanted him in the midfield,” he said. “I love my coaching staff and that’s why I love them, coach (David) Rang, he looked at me and he said, ‘No, put C.J. up on top. We need somebody up there that can help finish.’
“He’s been coming through.”
The other half of Suwannee’s “deadly duo” provided the goal late in the first half that gave the Bulldogs some cushion.
Gill took a pass from Yimmy Alvarez in the box following a corner kick and found the right side of the net for the 2-0 lead.
“When C.J. and Grayson, when they have that telepathic stuff going, man they are just awesome to watch,” Chris Joyner added. Gill also has 11 goals.
That was more than enough for Zach Lopez and Suwannee’s defense. Lopez registered 10 saves, including several leaping deflections, while Alvarez and the Bulldogs’ defenders helped keep Wakulla’s attack in check.
Finding a rhythm
After a season of two steps forward and one step sideways or back, the Bulldogs have finally seemed to find their groove.
Suwannee, which lost its regular season finale following three straight ties, has won a season-best three straight games and did so with a balanced effort, including eight goals in the three games.
In defeat, Wakulla keeper Sebastian Gaffney impressed Chris Joyner for the second straight game. In the district championship, Gaffney blanked the Bulldogs for nearly 60 minutes before Suwannee broke through and pulled away.
Wednesday, despite giving up two goals, Gaffney again gave the War Eagles a chance, with a handful of leaping and diving saves to keep the Bulldogs from tacking on even more.
“I can’t say enough about him,” Chris Joyner added. “He made some saves…that were just beautiful.
“He’s really good and he’s fun to watch. I enjoy watching keepers make great saves.”
Bishop Kenny, which improved to 18-5-2 with Wednesday’s back-and-forth win, is the second seed in the region. The Crusaders also feature four double-digit goal scorers as the team averages 3.6 goals per game.
Sophomore Martin Pineiros leads Bishop Kenny with 20 goals, while senior Alex McAninley has scored 19 goals, junior Sean Meisler has found the net 18 times and senior Aidan Lipovetsky has registered 13 goals.
The Crusaders enter on a 10-game winning streak.