Region boys soccer: Lakewood Ranch 2, Plant City 0
LAKEWOOD RANCH – Plant City was hoping to make a state semifinal for the first time in school history. Instead, the Raiders suffered their only loss of the season.
Lakewood Ranch scored two second-half goals in the Class 5A region final and played stubborn defense to hang on for a 2-0 win Tuesday night. Plant City, which had never played in a region final, ends its historic season 16-1-1.
“We played hard all year and came up 40 minutes short," Plant City coach Caleb Roberts said. “I was feeling pretty good at halftime. We had some space in the second half, but before we could get that space they sneaked one in on us.’’
After a scoreless first half in which each team had few opportunities, it didn’t take long for the Mustangs to strike in the second half. In the 42nd minute, the buildup started when Sam Stapleton-Jones took a pass in the left corner and attempted a cross. The ball sailed past the goal mouth and onto the foot of Pablo Vargas in the right corner. Vargas made a nice one-touch pass to Ricky Yanez, who was unmarked 5 yards in front of the goal. He knocked it past Raiders’ keeper Gustavo De La Garza for a 1-0 lead.
Play was fairly even from that point. Then in the 69th minute Plant City had its best chance of the game. Ronaldo Rodriguez got his head on a cross in the box that looked destined for the right corner. But Mustangs’ keeper Ryan Freeman dove all out to get a hand on the ball and deflect it wide.
Less than a minute later, Lakewood Ranch (18-2-1) scored again. Travis Freeman found Vargas open just outside the right corner of the 18-yard box. Vargas lofted a shot that sailed into the left corner for a 2-0 lead.
In the final 10 minutes, Plant City pushed up to try to get a goal. They almost did in the 78th minute, but two straight shots from close range were knocked away by Freeman.
Roberts said it wasn’t until the final minute that he thought his team might not come back. That’s because they have had a knack for winning close games, especially late in the season. The Raiders won their district tournament and region quarterfinal in penalty kicks and won last week’s region semifinal in overtime.
“Even with six minutes left and down two goals I thought we had it," Roberts said. “Our guys never give up. When two good teams play each other, one team has to lose. And that’s a good team we lost to. I think that’s the best team out there."