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Plant City wins first soccer championship in dramatic fashion

By Rodney Page | Preps Reporter
Published: February 24, 2018 Updated: February 24, 2018 at 07:46 PM
Plant City midfielder Ricardo Rosales celebrates after scoring the winning goal in penalty kicks. (James Gilbert, Special to the times)

DELAND — As Plant City players lined up for their Class 5A state championship medals after an exhausting 2-1 (3-2 in penalty kicks) win over Miami Beach Saturday afternoon, the reality hit them. They had to dye their hair blond.

The Raiders made a deal after their region final win over Palm Harbor University. If they were to win the school's first boys soccer state championship, they would show up to school Monday with new locks.

A deal is a deal.

"Gotta do it," sophomore midfielder Paulino Ramirez said. "We made history and we've got to represent."

Ramirez played a major role in the historical win. And he had to wait until the final minutes to do it.

Miami Beach (22-3) pressured for most of the first half and scored in the 32nd minute. The Hi Tides earned a free kick about 40 yards from goal. Jose Almanza launched a ball near the left end line. Lucas Arellano was able to get a head on the ball and direct into the goal box. Leonardo Acosta was unmarked in front of the goal and redirected it into the net.

That looked like it would be the game's only goal. Plant City (19-1) amped up the attack in the second half, especially in the final 10 minutes. The Raiders hit the post twice and Miami Beach goalkeeper Jose Escobar made three point-blank saves.

With three minutes left, Miami Beach forward Josue Aguilar earned a second yellow card and was sent off, which meant the Hi Tides played the rest of the game with 10 players.

Then with 2:29 left, Ramirez managed to get the ball in the net. The ball was sent into the goalie box off a free kick from Plant City goalkeeper David Jalomo just behind the midfield line. After a bounce, an on rushing Ramirez was able to get a head on the ball and bury it.

"I saw that nobody was going to the ball so I just pressured the ball and flicked a header and it went in the goal," Ramirez said. "It was an explosion of emotions going through my body."

Plant City players pose for a team photo after winning the State Championship against Miami Beach. (James Gilbert, Special to the Times)

Defense ruled for the rest of the game and into the two 10-minute overtimes. That set up the always stressful penalty kicks.

Both teams scored on their first two kicks, which included goals from Plant City's Elvis Castro and Ramirez. Then Jalomo took over. He made three straight saves, although the Raiders missed their next two shots.

With Plant City kicking last, Ricardo Rosales had a kick to win the game and the championship. He buried it into the lower left half, which ignited a wild celebration on the Spec Martin Stadium grass.

"I already knew where I was going to go," Rosales said. "We've gone over this in practice. That's my spot. I already knew I was going to make it. I was going to win the game for us."

Jalomo said he has been a goalkeeper since he was 8 years old and has never had any luck in penalty kicks. He picked the right time to come up big.

"Never won one before," he said. "There's  a bit of strategy. You have to look at the player's knee and waist and which way they are positioned. And then sometimes it's just luck."

As players posed for pictures with their hard-earned trophy, they seemed most proud to be able to bring a banner back to their hometown.

"Itty, bitty Plant City," they chanted.

Senior forward Eric Ugarte, whose parents couldn't leave Plant City on Saturday due to their jobs as migrant workers, played most of the game with a heavily wrapped hamstring. He said there was no way he was leaving the field. And he couldn't wait to get back home to celebrate with family.

"I'm pretty sure my mom was praying the whole day for me," Ugarte said. "I'm waiting on that call from her."

Plant City coach Caleb Roberts played soccer at the school. He feels this championship belongs to more than just the school.

"This whole city needs a champion," Roberts said. "There are a lot of kids in our school who do great things."

Especially the ones with blond hair.

Plant City midfielder Paulino Ramirez dribbles downfield defended by Miami Beach’s Alfredo Astaburuaga. (James Gilbert. Special to the Times)