Pilots breeze past Stallions

WARREN, Mich. - There's something to be learned in every situation in a game. 

So despite seeing his team end its district semifinal match early with an 8-0 victory over Sterling Heights on Tuesday, De La Salle Collegiate coach Thaier Mukhtar took advantage of every possible teaching moment he could - even with his team holding a commanding 7-0 lead at halftime.

"You don't take anyone for granted because this is one and out," the coach said. "We talked about starting off quickly. We knew they were going to try and pack it in against us and try to keep us off the scoreboard as long as possible."

Though the first five minutes went by with the Pilots struggling to keep possession of the ball, once they did, things started rolling. They broke through on a goal by junior CJ Fritz with 34:12 left on the clock. It started with a corner kick by junior Aidan Dankanics, who crossed it into Fritz for the finish. 

"We talked about how important it was to get that first one," Mukhtar said. "Once you get that first one, you'll see the floodgates open. And that's exactly what happened."

And it happened fast. Just 37 seconds later, junior Matthew Rafferty took a pass from Dankanics out wide and dribbled it in from the right side, beating his man and sending a shot past the Sterling Heights goalkeeper for a 2-0 lead. 

"We need to get the ball wide because that's where we have the advantage," Mukhtar added. "We're strong out wide. Get the ball out to (Matthew) Rafferty because he can take people on and put crosses into the middle. Rafferty on one side and CJ (Fritz) on the other."
Wasting no time, De La Salle added another goal just 24 seconds later. This time it was junior Jonathan Heppler, who took a heel shot off a rebound to beat the keeper to make it 3-0 just under seven minutes into the game.

The Pilots would score three more goals over the next 10 minutes. Seniors Jett Schodowski, Alexander Teftsis, and Tommy Turner all found the back of the net. Schodowski's was first, off a play-in from the corner - assisted by Rafferty.

Teftsis scored off a header, set up by a cross into the box by junior Spencer LeBeau. And it was LeBeau who then found a streaking Turner up the middle, who blew past the center defender to make it a 6-0 game.

The Pilots concluded the first half with a goal from junior Franz Baan, who took a perfectly placed pass from junior Mark Tungul up the middle to set up a passing shot to make it 7-0.

"We're always looking for ways to improve, especially when we get time on the field, to get better as a team out there," said Tungul, who along with his teammates was fed some constructive feedback at halftime from his coach. "Coach is a perfectionist. Even if we're playing well, he always has something for us to work on. Tonight it was that we weren't holding possession that well. He always expects the best out of us."

Despite the big lead at halftime, Mukhtar said there were things his players needed to improve upon.

"We expect more from the guys coming off the bench," he said. "That's your future. It's all about doing the right things. I didn't care about the scoreboard. It's about ball movement and doing the right things on the field."

The Pilots put the game away on a goal by senior Joseph Nicolella (from Tungul) with 34:22 showing on the clock, ending the game via the eight-goal mercy rule. Senior goalies Luke Kassin and Saimer Kiryakoza shared the shutout in goal for De La Salle (10-7-4), which will now face Warren Cousino Friday in the district championship game. The contest will kick off at 5 p.m.

"You're not going to get a game like this again. Everything is going to be moving up," Mukhtar said. "Cousino's going to be a challenge. Each game is a step up. But we've been there. We know what to do. It's just a matter of getting it done."

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