Blue Devils at their best at AAA provincials

The seeds for the fifth provincial AAA soccer championship to be won by the Dr. Charles Best Blue Devils were planted more than two weeks ago.

That’s when the Panorama Ridge Thunder, from Surrey, defeated the previously unbeaten Blue Devils 2-0 for the Fraser Valley championship. At the time, Best coach Dave Jones said his team had a bigger prize in mind.

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Saturday they claimed it with a 2-1 over the Thunder at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex. Beating the only team that beat them all season made it even sweeter, Jones said.

“They knew what it felt like to lose, and they weren’t happy,” Jones said of that single setback. “It was certainly a bit of motivation.”

Jones said while this year’s incarnation of the Blue Devils may not have been the most talented group, they’re certainly the gutsiest and most hard working. That ethic served them well in the rematch with their rivals from Panorama Ridge.

The Thunder hit the pitch running and gunning, determined to bury Best before the Blue Devils could find their legs. But keeper Dylan Sadgrove made a brilliant save in the game’s first five minutes and another shot a few moments later careened off the side of the post.

“We were sitting back a bit too much in the first half defensively,” Jones said.

Yet, other than the two early lapses, Best’s defence managed to stifle the Thunder’s attack through the half.

It was just before expiry of time in the half when the Blue Devils’ offence came alive as the tournament’s leading scorer and most valuable player, Quinn Desaulniers found the back of the net.

In the dressing room with a 1-0 lead, Jones warned his players to expect a fierce reply in the second half. They got it. Panorama Ridge tied it seven minutes into the period on a set play from a free kick to the right of the Blue Devils’ net.

The Thunder continued to press, but Best’s defensive corps weathered the storm.

“They were pretty nervous at that point,” Jones said, adding Sadgrove’s ability to smother any ball that came in his range helped settle his side.

Then, late in the half, the Blue Devils were awarded a penalty kick on a counter attack after one of their forwards was knocked down just inside the box. Desaulniers lined up behind the spot and didn’t miss, firing his shot into the right side of the net as Panorama Ridge’s keeper dove the opposite way.

After that it was “batten down the hatches and get rid of that ball,” Jones said.

The title ties the record for the most by any one school since the secondary schools soccer commission was formed in 1947. With five of his starters in Grade 11 and the school’s junior team coming off a Fraser Valley championship, Jones said he’s confident Best will have the record all to itself sooner rather than later.

“We’ve got to be optimistic,” he said. “Next year is looking good.”

In addition to his Golden Boot award as the tournament’s top scorer, and the MVP award, Desaulnier was also named to the Commissioner’s 11 all-star team. It was a remarkable finish to the season for the senior striker who’s more accustomed to playing as an attacking midfielder on his club team.

“He just had a fantastic tournament,” Jones said.

Best reached the final after defeating defending champion Reynolds 3-1 in last Friday’s semi-final. In pool play they beat Kitsilano 6-1,  Mt. Baker 3-0, and they tied Sentinel 1-1 after they’d already secured first in their group and a place in the final four.

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